10 July 2015
Homily for the Solemn Profession of
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
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). 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). Let’s dare say it: it’s the vision of
God. And it falls on each of us. And it means mercy.
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
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
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
sees a beloved daughter, made such in baptism and anointed with the Holy Spirit
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.
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.
Hugh Gilbert OSB of Aberdeen
Vultus: Bill of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy: Apostolic
Letter of Pope Francis: 11 April 2015