Presider: Abbot Joel Garner, O. Praem.
Norbertines are committed to community life. That is what attracted most of us to our particular Christian lifestyle. Our life together, our life in common gives us the opportunity to live with a group of intensely committed Christians – Christians who will encourage, support, and love us and expect the same in return – all so that we might serve others well.
This is the Feast of St. Augustine. Augustine was, in short, a fourth century playboy who ultimately became a saint. Augustine is special to us as Norbertines because he began a way of priests and brothers living in community which St. Norbert adopted and adapted in the twelfth century when our Order began.
It is on Augustine’s Feast that Norbertines entered the Order, professed their first vows, and then made their final solemn vowed commitment to God and their brothers. Today Zaccary Haney takes the second step in that formation process.
On this day of his first vows, the question might well be asked – what sense do such vows make in our contemporary world? Some insight might be gained by connecting his vows and St. Augustine’s Feast. I suggest two parallels.
In the first place, in both there is the mystery of God’s initiative. It is God who calls. That is not to say that anything and everything that one does in God’s name is a response to God. We all know that there are fanatics who say that God has told them to do this or that. But, it is to say that we should not confine the whisperings of God’s spirit simply to what makes rational sense to us.
In that sense, Mary would have told the angel Gabriel “to get lost.” Jesus would never have consented to be crucified. Augustine would have repressed that voice within him during that moment in the garden when he was called to conversion.
God is constantly calling us to go beyond ourselves. The Gospel is consistently summoning us to what often seems foolish in the eyes of the world. What I am simply suggesting is that some forms of self-giving may well be an inspired challenge to the current cultural values.
In this late afternoon’s context that implies that a vowed poverty, consecrated celibacy and obedience – as culturally unacceptable as they might be – may be God’s way of speaking to a culture that prizes “surrounding yourself with things,” and “scoring” sexually and “doing your own thing.”
God does take the initiative. His grace always envelopes us beyond our ability to see. And His call to Zaccary and other religious does not make final sense through rational and computer analysis.
This leads me to a second parallel between his vowing and this Feast of Augustine. How do we know that it is God that has taken the initiative? Well, we know very concretely, namely, by results.
That inspired moment in which Augustine turned fully to Christ and away from a questionable lifestyle – – that moment has ultimately influenced the church on many different levels from the fourth century to the present day.
The question for Zaccary and the question for us is: will his three-fold surrender to God make him more human? Will the vows that he professes become a “yes” to his world, his life, his spirit, his sexuality and a yes to you?
Put another way, will the vows that he professes today free him or enslave him? Will the vow of poverty actually liberate him from a slavish attachment to things, to possessions, to what is his to clutch and to keep? Will he learn to live simply, in an uncluttered fashion?
Will the vow of celibacy release him for warm human relationships that draw you not only to him, but to Christ? Will it free him from a strong attachment to only one person or from a “playing the field mentality”?
Will the vow of obedience deliver him from a preoccupation with his own wants, his own good pleasure, his own satisfaction, and link him to the will of God and the agonizing needs of God’s people, particularly young people.
If during the next several years Zaccary and those with whom he interacts are able to respond yes to those questions, then hopefully on another Feast of Augustine, he will profess Solemn Vows, final vows as a Norbertine.
Any public commitment to God and to others is an appropriate occasion to reaffirm our own commitments.
His “yes” today, his “yes” to God, to his brothers and sisters and to you will have its full effect only if you echo it in the concrete circumstances of your own life. It will have its full effect only if you are willing to renew your own commitments in marriage, in family, and in friendship.
And so Augustine’s Feast and the vowing of this young Norbertine becomes a challenge to us all. May we be open to accepting that challenge as our lives unfold.