In early times, the daily Chapter was a traditional feature of the monastic timetable. The monks left church at the end of the office of Prime and processed to a room near by, where a portion, or "chapter," of the Rule was read and the abbot commented upon it. It was also the natural occasion for announcements to be made affecting the life of the community and for a blessing to be given upon the day's work. Soon the room itself came to be called "the Chapter Room, or House" or simply "Chapter." Even today some form of this practice exists in many monasteries, including our own. Each month this page will feature a chapter talk given to the Community, as well as news and features. We hope you will visit us regularly.

 

                                                        10 July 2015

Homily for the Solemn Profession of

Sr Marie-Thérèse Dempsey[1]

How does God see us this morning?  How does he see Clare?  How does he see what’s happening?  How does he look at the world?  It’s present to him.  It’s in his mind.

    Is it impertinent even to ask?  ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counsellor?’ (Rom 11:34; cf Is 40:13)  Indeed.  But we can ask.  It’s good to ask and to risk at least something of an answer.  God has spoken.  God has declared his mind.  Otherwise, we’ll only have our poor eyes, our own limited judgement.  My truth, your truth.

    How does God look at us?  What’s his attitude?  What’s the look in his eye, as it were?  Christianity has a word.  Mercy.  ‘Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.  Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us.  Mercy the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life.  Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness’ (MV 2[2]).  That’s how God sees.  And what does this merciful God see?  The Father of Mercies can only see his beloved, his beloved Son, and everything else, the whole of creation and each one of us, in relation to him.  He sees the world as a place of gestation, a place where the body of Christ is being formed as it was in the womb of Mary.  This is the mystery of his will, his purpose: ‘to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.’  ‘The Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole earth’ and ‘the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! Bright wings’.  On the nest of history, the Holy Spirit is hatching the body of Christ.  He is rummaging in the world’s dark corners, he is picking out, drawing out, gathering, recapitulating, synthesizing, uniting.  He is turning chaos into cosmos.  That’s the vision of the Letter to the Ephesians.  It’s the vision of the famous words of the Second Vatican Council: ‘Since Christ died for everyone, and since all are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery’ (GS 22)[3].  Let’s dare say it: it’s the vision of God.  And it falls on each of us.  And it means mercy.

    This may sound hopelessly airy-fairy.  But it’s very real and personal – to each of us.  Early next month, I’ll be at the wedding of two friends.  I’ve known them for several years.  It has been a privilege to be a witness of their spiritual journey.  Both have previously taken wrong turnings, made mistakes, been through grief.  But the Lord have moved in their lives.  It has been beautiful to see.  And now He has brought each of them in from the cold and given each of them the mercy of the other.  And their marriage will seal this, and make them mercy for others.

    Think of all the movement there is in the world, ‘the fever and the fret’, the perpetual motion, the seething minds, the messages and texting, the projects, the improvements, the destructions and constructions.  Think of nature: ‘The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.  The wind blows to the south, and goes round to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns’ (Eccles 1:5-6).  Think of the movement of people.  There has never been so much migration as now.  Think of the poor folk trying to cross the Mediterranean, think of Calais.  Think, in another register, of the young men and women who go off to fight for ISIS.  But beyond and beneath all this, quieter and more far-reaching, sometimes countering it, sometimes going with it, pervasive but largely hidden, surrounding us, but oh so delicately, there’s this other movement, this movement of grace, this movement of mercy.  There’s this convergence on Christ which the Father sees and the Holy Spirit inspires.  ‘Behind and before you besiege me, your hand ever laid upon me … If I take the wings of the dawn and dwell at the sea’s farthest end, even there you hand would lead me, your right hand would hold me fast.’  It’s ‘the mystery of his will … to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.’

    This is what’s happening today.  This is what God is seeing.  This is what he is doing.  In a moment, Clare will read her formula of profession.  A formula of profession always mentions the place of birth.  This can come as a surprise to the uninformed: Timbuktu or Little-Mulching-on-the Marsh or … Astley.  This is where the journey began.  ‘For it was you who created my being, knit me together in my mother’s womb.’  The story so far from Astley to Appley Rise, with all the movements in between, the criss-crossing to Ireland, the years in Scotland, studying and nannying.  But what does God see?  The movement of his mercy.  There’s a little phrase in the Second Reading: ‘you too …’  ‘In him, you too, who have heard the word of truth … and have believed.’  I think when a man and a woman meet each other and decide to share their lives, there wells up in each of them a sense of being rescued.  They might not use Christian language.  But they will have a sense of mercy, of redemption.  They will feel what the Psalmist felt: ‘You stretch out you hand and save me’ (Ps 137/8:7).  And it’s the same for someone who becomes a nun in response to the luring of God.  ‘What do you ask of us?’ a would-be novice is asked by the abbess.  ‘The mercy of God and your fellowship.’  ‘You too…’  You too, Clare, you too have been touched by the mercy of God.  ‘On the rock too high for me to reach, prayed the Psalmist, set me on high, O you who have been my refuge, my tower against the foe’ (Ps 60/61:3-4).  If human beings can be rocks and towers and refuges for one another, can’t the Lord be too?  Can’t he say, ‘And I will betroth you to me for ever (you too); I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy’?

    How the Lord’s eyes must shine looking on Sr Marie-Thérèse this morning!        He sees a human being, created in his image and likeness, precious in his eyes.  He sees a beloved daughter, made such in baptism and anointed with the Holy Spirit in confirmation.

    He sees a young woman whose heart the Holy Spirit has filled with the love of Christ and saying: ‘O Lord God in the simplicity of my heart I have gladly offered you everything and I have seen with immense joy your people gathered here.’

    He sees us too, his people gathered here, and the whole range of emotion in our hearts: joy and pride, perplexity and pain as well perhaps.  No-one is so touched by a profession as the family, which is why the liturgy prays for them / you.

    And this God of mercy hears the prayer of the Church today:

    Look down on you servant.  Confirm her resolve.  Confirm her, consecrate her, bless her.  Pour forth on her the dew of the Holy Spirit.  Fill her with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Respice, confirma, consecra, benedic, emitte, reple – all this through Christ and with Mary and the saints joining their intercession.

    At the heart of today’s liturgy is the solemn prayer of consecration.  Bishop Philip, representing as bishop Christ the High Priest in this local Church of Portsmouth, will pray this prayer.  It is powerful.  In her quiver the Church has this clutch of arrows which can pierce the heart of God.  Today’s prayer of the consecration of a virgin is one.  The prayer of religious profession or of the consecration of a monk is another.  There is the nuptial blessing used at a sacramental marriage.  There’s the prayer for blessing baptismal water used at the Easter Vigil, the prayers of ordination, and the Eucharistic Prayers we’re familiar with.  They’re all prayers of invocation and consecration.  They are prayers of epiclesis, calling down the Holy Spirit from the Father to Christ-ify in different ways who or what is prayed for.  They work.  And after today’s prayer for Clare, the Lord will establish his throne in her, as the Choir will sing.

    But fear not: the Clare of Astley, Sr Marie-Thérèse, whom we know and love will not be transubstantiated out of existence.  She will still be herself, with all her delights and foibles.  She’ll still have to get herself up in the morning, brush her teeth, and do day after day all the ordinary things nuns do – nunning about in the cloister and the kitchen and the orchard and the church and her room.  She’ll still panic now and then and make mistakes.  It’s a metaphysical principle: if you have a being that can fail it sometimes will.  The Lord, I think, isn’t too bothered about that kind of stuff.  He works at a different level.  Sr Marie-Thérèse will just be of this community and its life.  She’ll have family and friends in her heart and her prayer, and actually be closer to us now.  Most of all, she’ll be living this deep divine movement that carries, besieges, infiltrates, disrupts and rescues the world, for all its sin and confusion, violence and noise, and leads it to its goal in God.  Sr Marie-Thérèse will be aiding and abetting this subterranean, sub-sea current of grace.  It’ll be the life of her life.  As the years of patience and prayer and ordinariness do their work, she’ll be discovering more and more her need, our need, everyone’s need, for mercy.

    ‘From the heart of the Trinity,’ says Pope Francis, ‘from the depths of the mystery of God, the great river of mercy wells up and flows unceasingly.  It is a spring that will never run dry, no matter how many people approach it.’  Clare, by her vow of stability today, Clare tall, beautiful tree, is putting her roots by this river.  In the heart of the Church, her mother, she will be love.  I think we can be grateful.

    The last of the three readings we’ve had – the Gospel – shows us Jesus at prayer: praying to the Father for the fulfilment of his plan for the world and humanity – that they may be one.  And the last of the three ritual gestures after Sr Marie-Thérèse’ consecration is a handing over of the prayer book of the Church – the divine office.  ‘Receive the book of the Church’s prayer: may praise of the heavenly Father always sound on your lips and may you always intercede for the salvation of the world.’

    What does God see in Sr Marie-Thérèse?  His mercy.  Mercy at prayer.  A nun is mercy, a nun is mercy at prayer or nothing.  Thank you Clare for doing what you’re doing today.  Thank you for taking this risk.  It’s for all of us.

                                                                             Bishop Hugh Gilbert OSB of Aberdeen



[1] 1st Reading: Hosea 2:14, 19-20; 2nd Reading: Ephesians 1:3-14; Gospel: John 17:20-26

[2] Misericordiæ Vultus: Bill of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy: Apostolic Letter of Pope Francis: 11 April 2015

[3] Gaudium et Spes: Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern Word: Promulgated by Pope Paul VI: 7 December 1965.


Previous Chapter Talks