Brother Juan First Vows — Assumption Vespers, August 14, 2017 Given by Fr. Stan

Romans 8: 9 – 30

When we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ it is the very Spirit of God bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

Brother Juan, it has been a long journey for you that has led to your petition to the Mepkin Community to pronounce First Vows. Long on many fronts.

At 67 you are, by far, the oldest person without religious vows or ordination to stand before the Abbot of Mepkin with such a request. This is not to be taken for granted. We usually refuse to accept someone of your age with no previous experience of religious life. But you persevered in your knocking and we discerned the Spirit of God bearing witness to a call of God in your heart.

Long also because you have struggled often in your life with a call to some sort of religious, priestly or diaconal life. When one door was shut there was a period of adjustment, but then the call would manifest itself in another desire for a more structured religious life. The pattern occurred several times over many years of your life. You have now persevered with us for over three and a half years and we have seen great progress in your adaptation to monastic life. The call remains strong and vibrant.

Long finally in your progressive understanding of the God who calls you and the demands this God makes on you. The spiritual life is a life of progressive freedom, of openness to life and relationships, and of surrender to the God of love. Like many of us you have struggled with a low self-esteem, at times with scrupulosity, and with an image of God as a rugged taskmaster. But you have been very open to the teaching and encouragement of your novice director, your abbot, and your brothers. Your prayer, your reading habits and your image of God continue to be transformed into those which have shaped the lives of monks throughout the ages. Trust this monastic and Cistercian tradition, trust the teaching of your mentors, trust the wisdom embodied in the great spiritual masters you read. The brothers have seen how you are changing and rejoice in your growth. We willingly extend our arms in a welcome embrace of you as you enter into this next stage of your life in our community. What a joy this is!!

The Scripture reading for today’s feast of the Assumption of Mary, the Patronal Feast of the Cistercian Order, is a perfect witness to how your life can continue to grow and develop. The greatness of Mary is the greatness of her docility to the Spirit who whispers in her heart. Her life was a constant openness to the breath of the Spirit, until by the end of her life she became so transparent to the Spirit that she was simply taken up by the Spirit into heaven. She recognized her weakness, but she allowed the Spirit to pray in her. She knew by experience that all things work together for the good of those who love God. Her life was filled with sorrow, with heartbreak, with a sword which pierced her heart. But she hung fast, she clung to the God who called her and allowed God’s Spirit to penetrate every nook and cranny of her heart. I urge you, Brother Juan, to strive ever more to be like Mary, to follow Mary, to open yourself to the Spirit within you, to know your great dignity as a child of God, and to rely on that Spirit to guide you each and every day, each and every minute. Remember the words of Saint Paul we have heard this evening, that God’s Spirit is not a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but a Spirit of adoption, a Spirit who cries within us: ‘Abba, Father,’ a Spirit who helps us in our weakness.

The Spirit is the very love and mercy of God. And so I will end by repeating a phrase I said to you when you received the novice habit two years ago: “Know the never ending joy of Mary by being … an open vessel, an empty vessel, into which the love and the mercy of God may be poured to overflowing”. The Spirit has been active throughout your long journey. I assure you that the Spirit will continue to be with you as you journey onwards.

And so, Brother Juan, I ask you: Are you ready to enter into the mystery of the Spirit who dwells within you and abides with you unceasingly by pronouncing your First Vows as a Cistercian monk of Mepkin Abbey?