Homily from Sr. Cecilia Maria's Mass of Perpetual Religious Profession
Last Saturday was a simply glorious day as our Sr. Cecilia Maria became the newest perpetually professed member of St. Joseph Monastery, making her vows to follow her Crucified Spouse all the days of her life! We promise there are lots of pictures on their way, but in the meantime, we provide a little food for thought in the form of Fr. Vincent Ferrer Bagan, OP’s homily preached during the profession Mass. Fr. Vincent Ferrer is a classmate of Sr. Cecilia Maria from her days at St. Olaf College, and we were blessed by his presence on this joyous occasion when, besides being homilist, he served as guest organist and choir director! Now, without further ado, his beautiful reflections on the work and grace of a lifetime leading up to perpetual consecration to Christ:
Sr. Cecilia Maria of the Body of Christ, CP
Perpetual Profession of Vows
January 5, 2019 - Memorial of St. Charles of Mount Argus, CP
“I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8). That, my brothers and sisters, is why we are here today. Because Sr. Cecilia Maria of the Body of Christ, has come, with St. Paul, to consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus her Lord. As we will hear in the solemn consecration that Fr. David will pray over her after she makes her profession, God has created us with boundless love. Without him, we simply are not. And, when we squandered his blessings by sin, God the Father did not abandon us but, loving us even as he loved his only-begotten Son, he sent his Son, Christ Jesus our Lord, to save us from sin and death by his own passion and death on the cross. As Sr. Cecilia Maria has come to the supreme good of knowing this, of knowing Christ Jesus her Lord, her life has been given a “new horizon and a decisive direction” toward union with Christ Jesus her Lord (Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est 1). Today, in particular, as she vows perpetually to follow her Beloved by promoting devotion to and grateful remembrance of the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ and expressing it in her style of life, as she vows to imitate him in chastity, poverty, and obedience, and as she vows to live in enclosure perpetually, we give thanks for the grace of Christ, which alone has enabled her to accept the loss of all things and consider them so much rubbish that she might gain Christ and be found in him (Phil 3:8–9).
But how did all of this happen? On this defining day in her Christian life, as she devotes herself perpetually to the very way in which Christ has saved us, we should give thanks for the ways in which God, in his providential plan of love for her, has brought her to this day.
We begin by giving thanks to God for an event in her life that has already been mentioned in the collect prayer for this Mass and that will be mentioned again in the first question she will be asked after this homily and in the solemn consecration prayer: we give thanks to God for her baptism, the moment in which the fruits of Christ’s passion were definitively applied to her, when the eternal punishment due to original sin was taken away from her, when the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit came to dwell in her and to bring her into their own eternal communion of love, when she died with Christ and rose with him to new life, when her soul was permanently marked and she was definitively given the identity that was the favorite name of her patron, St. Cecilia, the name of Christian; when she was given the power to do what she now does seven times a day, to worship the living God. Thanks be to God for the graces of baptism, for Sr. Cecilia Maria and for all of us, graces which we ought to remember much more frequently than we do, graces that we ought to remember in the difficult moments of our life, to be assured that the fleeting difficulties and worries of our life cannot compare with the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord, whose very life and salvation were given to us in our baptism. The religious life is a deepening of baptism, a form of life, a structure of life that is designed to allow one to live the baptized life, the Christian life, as fully as possible, and so these graces of baptism are coming to a new and definitive fullness today in the life of Sr. Cecilia Maria.
We give thanks to God, too, for the first flowering of those graces of baptism in her Christian upbringing, fostered by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wynn, and her family, who celebrate with her here today. Through the love and Christian witness of her family and friends, a solid foundation was laid for the offering of her life to Christ that we are about to witness today.
We give thanks to God for the gift of music and of singing, developed in her youth, which sustained her in difficult times and gave beautiful expression to her love of and devotion to God.
We give thanks to God for her love of the Eucharist, which led her to be received into the Church in December of 2003 – and for the reception of the Body of Christ for which she so longed and for the grace to live the Christian life more perfectly and to be a witness for Christ given to her in confirmation. Three of us here today had the privilege of singing for that Mass, during which we sang, among other things, Palestrina’s Sicut cervus, which seems to have been a foretaste of things to come in her life – “As the deer longs for running streams, so my soul longs for you, my God” (Ps 42:1).
We also give thanks for her devotion to the Blessed Mother that developed especially by means of the Holy Rosary. If I remember correctly, while my preferred Rosary time, at about twenty minutes, was probably still twice as long as the Irish grandmother speed, Sister’s was about thirty minutes – perhaps another foretaste of her contemplative vocation, a prelude to the time she now spends with Mary at the foot of the cross lifting up the needs of the world.
We give thanks to God for the friendships she developed at St. Olaf College and at the University of St. Thomas, where she and those of us who knew her grew in our Christian lives by the graces of Christian fellowship, and where even Catholics grew in their devotion to God by singing hymns from the Lutheran Book of Worship in beautiful four-part harmony.
We give thanks to God who during this time began to speak more intimately to her heart, “Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come! . . . Let me see you, / let me hear your voice, / For your voice is sweet, / and you are lovely” (Song 2:10, 14). To God who began to give her the grace, a difficult grace at times, to desire to pursue him more intentionally in the religious life, to use her voice to sing his praises and to seek to make her soul a lovely offering to her Beloved, we give thanks.
We give thanks to God for the spring 2007 nun run from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis that made its way to this beautiful place in Kentucky, where Sr. Cecilia Maria first encountered the Passionist life, and for the intercession of her big brother, the Passionist St. Charles of Mount Argus, whose canonization she attended in Rome in 2007 and on whose feast she entered this monastery in 2010 and on whose feast this very day in 2019 she joins him perpetually in the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ. By the healing power of Christ that was given to him, many Irish of the mid-nineteenth century were renewed by experiencing the power of God’s love; we pray that, through St. Charles’s intercession, Sr. Cecilia Maria, and all of us here present, will be healed and renewed by seeing the power of God’s love today.
We give thanks to God for the sisters that God has given to Sr. Cecilia Maria, for the mercies they have shown to her, for the things about Passionist life they have taught her and shown her by their example, for their commitment to their own profession by which she has seen that it really is possible to live with Jesus at the foot of his cross in the Passionist form of life and to persevere in it until death. Indeed, Sister, the words of St. Paul to the Philippians can also be your own words today: “It is not that I have already taken hold of [the resurrection from the dead] or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:12). God, who has begun this good work in you, Sister, can indeed bring it to completion.
And, in light of that, we even give thanks to God for the physical and spiritual crosses that Sr. Cecilia Maria has experienced, through which her Spouse has joined her more closely to himself. St. John of the Cross teaches us “that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.” And St. Rose of Lima confirms this in a somewhat shocking way: "If only mortals would learn how great it is to possess divine grace...without doubt they would devote all their care and concern to winning for themselves pains and afflictions . . . instead of good fortune, in order to attain the unfathomable treasure of grace.” And your holy Father Paul of the Cross says that, while “the Passion of Christ is an ocean of sorrow, . . . all the more is [it] an ocean of love.” Indeed, Sister, because you have been taken possession of by Christ Jesus, he has given you the grace to endure the cross with him and even to seek it and to endure it joyfully and with love, knowing that through it you have an everlasting possession in your Father’s home (cf. Heb. 10:34).
We give thanks to God, who through so many gifts of his providence has brought Sr. Cecilia Maria to this day, when, in a renewal of her baptism, she will, as we will see shortly during the Litany of Saints, die and be buried with Christ so that she can rise today to new life with him, consecrated and espoused to him perpetually.
Sister, you have chosen to hear, immediately before that happens, the final words that Jesus speaks to his disciples before he undergoes his passion. Or rather, we should say, the final words that Jesus says in front of his disciples before he undergoes his passion, allowing them to listen in to the prayer he prays to his Father. After praying for his twelve disciples, he turns, at the beginning of the passage we heard, to pray for “those who will believe in [him] through [the] word [of his disciples],” which is, of course, all other Christians (John 17:20). He prays that we may be one in a unity that is grounded in and participates in his own unity with the Father (John 17:21–22). As he is about to give his life for our salvation, he prays that we may be where he is, with his Father, that we may see the glory that the Father has given him and even share in that glory, as the Father loves us even as he loves his Son (John 17:22–24). He prays that the love with which the Father loved him may be in us, and that he himself may be in us (John 17:26). In this prayer, Sister, we see how much Christ Jesus our Lord loves us – he wants nothing less for all of us than that we participate in his very life.
And so, in return for the many gifts that God has given to you, Sister, you have chosen to give everything to him. And for that, all of us here give a loud, “THANKS BE TO GOD!”, as you just heard. You have chosen to be with Jesus in the prayer that is closest to his passion. You have chosen to rejoice here, in the shadow of his wings in this beautiful Passionist monastery (Ps 63:8). You have chosen to unite yourself to Jesus in his passion and in his prayer to the Father that his passion bring about our union with God, that the love of the Father and that Christ himself may be in us. Or, rather, God has chosen you for this, and Christ Jesus our Lord has taken possession of you for this, not only for your own salvation but also for the salvation of all of us here today.
But just as you are losing something today in order to gain Christ, so, too, are we, your family and friends, losing something. We have and will continue to miss you, Sister, because we have loved your presence among us. But, with the eyes of faith, we know that just as your gain is so much greater than your loss, so, too, we gain today more than we lose. I have never been happier for you than I am today, Sister, first of all because your very life will, in a few moments, be for us a perpetual reminder that there is nothing more important than Christ. That for us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven; that our God became one of us so that he could save us from death and give us life, eternal life. You are a witness to us that there is nothing more important than this. Your life will remind all of us to ask ourselves regularly whether, in the state of life we live, we are putting Christ first, whether we are seeking eternal life with him above all else. It will bring us joy to remember you because it will make us remember God. Your profession today brings us all closer to him.
And, secondly, you will not only be a reminder to us. You yourself will be of immense assistance to us and to the whole Church, the Bride of Christ which presently endures so much suffering, through your prayers, which God will always make use of. As your family and friends we are associated with your prayers in a particular way. We can even offer our particular prayer requests to you and your community on passionistnuns.org. Your prayers and the prayers of your sisters will move us toward heaven, where, God willing, we will be closer together than we ever could be on earth because we will be together, in our God himself, forever.
So be confident, Sister, and filled with hope, knowing that the grace of Christ is with you. He has taken possession of you, so give your life to him completely, holding nothing back, knowing that your Beloved is leading you to the wedding feast of heaven. And, by your prayers, which, because of God’s generosity in bringing you so close to him, are abundantly efficacious, beseech him that he take us with you to heaven, so that all of us, dwelling in the unity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, might join the choirs of angels and sing God’s praises together in our true homeland of heaven for all eternity. Amen.