Two weeks ago, today I made my Profession of Solemn Vows. As I move into my ministry as part of our Retreat Team, I have been pondering the blessings of the celebration and trying to linger in the moments of that day.
One of the key elements of the Profession Rite of Solemn Vows is the Litany of Saints. This powerful moment of calling upon our brothers and sisters in heaven and the whole Body of Christ happens right after the candidate has been examined and before the profession of vows. It is the hinge moment linking the journey that was, to this moment and to the journey which will be.
I have been asked several times about this moment during my Solemn Vows. I will try to capture what was happening within me, around me and some insights which have been shared with me.
After I had been examined by our Provincial, I took from my mom and dad a pillow which had the word loved quilted onto it (it was made by my Aunt Debbie after a retreat I presented and is my word for the year). I placed the side with love quilted on it face down to the floor. This was intentional as a reminder that I am anchored in the love of Christ, and that because of the love of family, friends and my brother Friars I am at this moment in time.
I then laid down in cruciform position (shape of a cross) and the choir began to sing the Litany of Saints. Here I am laying on the floor between friars, my family and friends. There were several things going through my mind very quickly as I settled into the moment. Lying on the floor surrounded by amazing people and the cloud of witnesses in the Saints reminded me of my vulnerability, my poverty – my desire to have a ready heart pouring out my all into Christ and for Christ.
I remember thinking, “this is happening, this is really happening… be present.” I took a deep breath – not one of holding my breath but a deep breath filling me with peace. It was in these moments (which all happened very quickly at the beginning of the Litany) that my commitment to living as a religious brother filled me with deep peace.
As I laid on the floor I felt held. There was this great sense of being held up and also being held in someone’s arms (maybe even everyone’s present). I was within reaching distance of the arms which first held me and the arms which would next embrace me into this way of life. This was the beauty of that moment and being held, of making this commitment and of trusting that God was indeed at work and holding me (as God always has).
I also remember being filled with great joy, almost a giddiness. I can best describe it as “childlike faith”. It was maybe for the first time in my life that I understood or was able to capture what “childlike faith” was or felt like or that is was palpable. I remember smiling as my head rested on the pillow and thinking, “this is happening: I am held, I am loved, I am free, I am surrounded by love and witnesses of faith who also knew the gift of childlike faith.”
My friend Matt, who is a pastor of a Lutheran community captured this moment well:
This summer Claire and I were invited to a service in Cochrane. It was where our friend, and Franciscan brother made his lifetime, solemn vows. It was a rich and beautiful evening.
The most moving moment was during the Litany. Michael came forward in front of the altar, and he laid face down with arms outstretched in the shape of the cross. And in that posture the congregation responsively sung the prayers. I was undone in that moment.
It was symbolic of emptying himself in order to be empowered. It was symbolic of following Jesus.
As a gathered people… we aspire to be shaped by the cross. It’s the cruciform shape and posture that announces a forgiving God. It announces and enacts love in the face of hate, life in the face of death, beauty in the face of disfigurement.
The One who hung from the Cross continues to shape us by Spirit into this posture. And we find in Him, everything we’ve yearned for, but were unable to verbalize. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
This is who we are as the children of God – the Body of Christ called to carry the cross, proclaim the good news and be vessels of hope, love, justice and peace. The tasks are not easy, the burdens sometimes many, but the One in whom we are claimed in as children of God is always with us.
As I laid prostrate on the floor one of my nieces whispered to her mom, “When is he coming back to life?” A question we must ask ourselves every day. As children of God baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, how are we rising again and again to new life? I know it’s the question I have asked myself in the days since my Solemn Vows. I will continue to ask myself this question as I strive to be the saint I am called to be and celebrate being incorporated into the Body of Christ.
The Litany of Saints – connection to baptism
– a reminder to love and serve the gospel way of life
– a moment captured in my Solemn Vows.