Brother Mikah's Solemn Profession
Br. Mikah, how can we describe the meaning of your solemn profession? First of all, it is an expression of who you are and where your treasure is. But there is another side to this. It is a moment for Jesus to express to you in a new way who he is and who he wants you to be in union with him. Your family and friends, your fellow monks and nuns, are witnessing a sacred moment of revelation between you and the Lord. Thankfully, you have given us a window into that mutual revelation through the readings you have chosen for today’s Mass. Permit us to gaze into this window.
The gospel tells us about a group of Jewish elders. They interceded with Jesus on behalf of two marginal people—a Roman centurion who was a foreigner and military commander of occupation forces; and his dying slave, a member of one of the most marginal classes on earth. But the elders recognize something more important—the centurion has a compassionate heart and the slave needs healing. Being marginal does not define people. Does this sound familiar? How often have you interceded on behalf of the poor and marginal in South Philly. Your acts of mercy then gave expression to who you were, and the Lord does not forget. But now he wants you to exercise your intercessions in a different way, hidden from the eyes of the world. Rather than feeding and consoling the poor directly, the Lord has chosen you—to speak metaphorically—to be like “the rain and the snow that comes down from heaven and waters the earth.” Your prayer of faith will become like the word that goes forth from God’s mouth and waters the earth, making it “fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to” to those who sorely need it. You will be an intercessor like the word of God.
The centurion in the gospel reveals another aspect of who you are—he was a man of authority and knew the need and place of authority through his own experience. But he also recognized in Jesus a higher authority, and he willingly submitted to it. He trusted Jesus to act in accordance with true authority, as he himself would. This is a wonderful example of the humility that a monk must have. The monk finds in The Rule of St. Benedict, the person of the abbot, and the mutual obedience of the monks the place where God is allowed to express his authority. This is a stumbling block for many young people today. They see authority as restrictive and constraining, whereas the monastic life sees authority as a manifestation of God’s presence and the opportunity to cooperate with it. But this takes humility.
Finally, let us recall today’s lovely responsorial psalm— “Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.” The responsorial is insistent, repeating over and over: “Renew the face of the earth…renew the face of the earth.” We are beseeching the Spirit to find a piece of earth where he can begin his renewal. Br. Mikah, you are a piece of that earth. The Lord Jesus has brought you here among your brothers in order for the Spirit to turn over the soil of your heart, day in and day out. Your heart will become a place where the renewal of the earth can take place and a place where Jesus can cast fire on the earth.
Br. Mikah, your family and friends, your fellow monks and nuns are witnessing a sacred moment of revelation. You are expressing who you are; Jesus is matching that and welcoming you into union with him: as a bridge of intercession between heaven and the great poverty of this earth; as one obedient unto death as Jesus was to the authority of his Father; and as a dwelling place of the Spirit where the words of the Song of Songs may be fulfilled: “Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden and let its fragrance be wafted abroad…” May the Spirit of the Lord blow upon the garden of your heart and that of this community so that the fragrance of our monastic life will draw others to the hearts of Jesus and his mother.
On June 3, we celebrated with great joy the solemn profession of our Brother Mikah Ochieng’. His family and friends joined us in prayer and celebration as he promised himself to Christ Jesus our Lord.
Abbot Vincent’s homily. Photographs by Brothers Brian & Daniel.
Mother Teresa once said, “I pray that I may love God with a love with which He has never been loved before–what a foolish desire.” Brother Mikah tells us that this too is his prayer.
A large part of my life before coming to the Abbey was dedicated to helping serve the needs of under-served communities in Philadelphia, where I had gone to school and had lived for some years. It was during this period that I worked among homeless, immigrant, inner city youth, and older adult communities. While steadily engaged in being an active witness to these various communities over the years, I found myself becoming internally burnt out. Originally my hope was for a positive transformation of the people whom I served. Steadily however, that focus became a sort of distortion. I believe that subconsciously I was taking a certain pride in my work and the various causes that I was undertaking, rather than seeking enhanced quality of life in the people I was ministering to. I gradually came to that realization. What brought me to the monastery was a desire to truly seek the good of all through a single-minded search for God.
I have come to greatly value the stability of our communal life, centered around the routine of the Liturgy. Such an environment lends itself to the creation and preservation of relationships and all the beauty it has to offer- accountability, vulnerability, forgiveness, and empathy. I found it difficult to live out these commitments in my life before the monastery, primarily because of the transient lifestyle that had become all too common in my life. I was simply trying to ‘survive’ in society; building a career, seeking new relationships and moving from living situation to living situation. All of these competing values had become disorienting in my search for God.