Presider: Abbot Joel Garner, O. Praem.
In the tradition to which we belong, and by that I mean the larger Judeo-Christian tradition, to receive a vocation, to receive a call from God is always an invitation to movement. In the Book of Genesis the first words God speaks to Abraham, our father in faith, are “Come out.” (Gen. 12:1) And Abraham leaves that place for a whole new experience of God. Then in the Gospel of John we read that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, “calls his own by name and leads them out.” (Jn. 10: 3)
Vocations invite us “out of ourselves to something more, to something beyond,” and yet that call is primarily meant to be an inner movement, an inner transformation.
Patricio, tonight you become a novice in our almost 900-year-old heritage of religious life. “Novus” is the Latin word for new. A novitiate is the two-year orientation for newcomers. You will be given the opportunity to study the documents that have shaped our life. You will continue to pray with us in common – “singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” – and you will pray alone. You will hopefully come to know more fully a whole set of brothers whose lives are grounded and nourished in Christ. And you will get a fresh taste of ministry during these years.
But in one fundamental sense your call, your vocation is no different than it ever was. A document from the Second Vatican Council perhaps put it best with its emphasis that every Christian is called to holiness, to sanctity. In other words, there is a “universal call to holiness.” What does to be called to holiness mean?
Thomas Merton was a monk and influential spiritual writer. In an important spiritual insight of Thomas Merton it simply means “to be yourself, or to become who you are.” Holiness consists of being true to the person God created. In other words, being holy means being your true self. And besides the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the best illustration of this can be found in the lives of the saints, some of whose images are surrounding you on this night.
It is always important to remember that saints were human beings, which means they sinned, often frequently, doubted sometimes, and wondered whether they were doing the right thing more often than you and I would think. As anyone does, the saints struggled with casting off the dimensions of their false selves and becoming who God wanted them to be.
I am using the term saints in its broadest possible meaning – not simply canonized saints – but the hosts of holy men and women who learned over the course of their lifetime to become who they were.
At some point in their lives each saint realized that God was calling them to be faithful in a particular way. Each saint found themselves in a different situation in time. Each had a different personality and dealt with life differently, and each related to God a little differently as well.
In reality each of us is to be holy in a different way. Why? Because everyone’s true self is a unique creation of God, and the way to sanctity is to become the unique self that God wishes me to be, wishes you to be.
Holiness is not the luxury of the few. It is everyone’s responsibility, which means it is yours and mine. We are not meant to be Mother Teresa or Thomas Merton, Mary Magdalene or Augustine, Archbishop Romero or Therese of Lisieux.
Holy people are sources of inspiration for us rather than models of possible conduct. We are simply meant to be ourselves.
And it is here that I think Thomas Merton’s description of the true and false self is particularly helpful. The false self is the one we present to the world, the one we think will be pleasing to others: attractive, confident, successful. The true self, on the other hand, is the person we are before God with both our strengths and weaknesses. Holiness consists of discovering who that person is and striving to become that person.
To put it simply, an underlying goal of the spiritual life is discovering who we are before God and letting God love that person. And it is also about how becoming that person can bring us a feeling of union with God and a sense of peace in our lives.
But in the final analysis the call to be the true self is an invitation to a transformation that leads to holiness. It is an invitation to a life-long call to draw closer to God. And God wants nothing more than to encounter us as the persons we are, our true selves, and the saints we are meant to be.
May your novitiate, Patricio, be a springboard to that life-long spiritual journey. Through your reading, conversation, and prayer may you grow gradually into the person you are meant to be.