Brother Joseph's Solemn Profession

On June 3, we celebrated with great joy the solemn profession of our Brother Joseph Paez. His family and friends joined us in prayer and celebration as he promised himself to Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Br. Joseph, the words of the prophet Hosea have been going through my mind in preparation for your Solemn Profession: “I drew them with human cords, with bands of love. I fostered them like those who raise an infant to their cheeks; I bent down to feed them.” Is this not what Jesus has done for you, drawing you back into this wilderness of Spencer to speak to your heart? Today’s celebration is all about the ways that God has drawn us to himself and you to your monastic consecration. 

But what exactly are these bands of love? When Hosea says that we are drawn by God with bands of love and human cords, he is speaking in metaphor. God’s bands of love are not leather straps or harnesses. No, God draws us by his acts of love, sometimes gently, sometimes forcefully—we learn this quickly in monastic life. At one time, he is like a mother lifting her child to her cheeks and gazing into his eyes; at another, like a father who sees his child about to run out onto a busy street and yanks him back. Both are acts of love. Both draw us into an embrace of love and protection. God is always looking out for us—with human cords, with bands of love, and even with yanks of love. We find some good examples of this in the readings chosen for today’s celebration. Let’s begin with Ezekiel. 

The word of God that came through Ezekiel’s prophecy was anything but gentle. Rather, it was a blunt and provocative prophecy: “Not for your sake do I act, house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name.” Monastic life can be forceful and blunt as well—we are not here because of our great accomplishments, but because of God’s mercy and the holiness of his great name. We have to learn this lesson. The divine holiness is on our right and on our left, like a consuming fire. If we allow it, it will consume our stubbornness and resistance and create in us a new heart and a new spirit. If we welcome it, God will reveal his great name to us anew, and through it, his inner being, which is love. His name is oil poured out—love leaving a lasting imprint on our memory. Its fragrance enters behind the veils that we put in place, touching our hearts—our hardness of heart at first—to create a heart of flesh. The holiness of his great name is truly a band of love, drawing us and purifying us. What, my brother, could be sweeter to us than this voice of the Lord uttering his great name? And this name you know well: it is Jesus.

Jesus—the name exalted by the Father above every other name. Ezekiel spoke of the divine power and majesty of God’s name. St. Paul in the Letter to the Philippians speaks of its human aspect. Jesus came to us in recognizable form. He “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness…” He is the human cord given us by the Father to move our affections and draw us to himself. If there were a greater human cord that God could have stretched out to us, I do not know what it is. 

Which brings us to the last cord of love, which, actually, is the first. Jesus just said, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you…” from your mother’s womb, from before the foundation of the world. It is this choice of Jesus that has been like “…a seal upon your heart, a seal upon your arm…’ and yet, his choice is even more intimate. For he goes on to say, “Remain in me, as I remain in you…” This mutual indwelling reaches to the “breadth and length and height and depth” of Christ’s love. Here in this place of Spencer, in the presence of your family and friends, your brothers and sisters, he is giving you all things: your cross; your oblation for the salvation of the world; your community where you can empty yourself and be filled again—and the most precious of all bands of love: ejus dulcis praesentia—His sweet presence. 

Abbot Vincent’s homily.

Photographs are by Brother Daniel.