An address given by Brother André Marie on the occasion of the religious profession of Brother Louis Marie, M.I.C.M., and Brother Maximilian Maria, M.I.C.M., the Feast of the Divine Maternity, 10-11-2005.
“What in the world are you doing?”
That’s what many people may be tempted to ask these brothers today: “What in the world are you doing?” They could rightly answer, “Nothing! I’m not doing anything in this world anymore.” And how right would they be, for in a few minutes they are going to hear the words, “Most beloved brothers, you have left the world behind and have taken refuge in God…” This isn’t just a pious platitude, it’s the reality of what is happening here today. They are leaving the world to enter into their Father’s House, to serve God in religion.
Religious Life. What is religious life? To make any sense out of today’s ceremony, and out of what this apostolate is all about, we have to have some notion of this. Yet how few there are that really get it. The religious life is the radical living of the life we received at Baptism; it is the radical – meaning “going to the root, the radix – embracing of the Gospel by adding to the two great commandments of the New Law (love of God and love of neighbor), the three Evangelical Counsels of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience – and these lived by vow.
We see this in the Augustinian Rule, which is the Rule of our Order. It begins with the words, “Before all things, most dear brothers, we must love God and after Him our neighbor; for these are the principal commands which have been given to us. The following things, then, we direct you, who live in the monastery, to observe…” And he goes on to give rules on how the counsels are to be lived. About Poverty, he says: “Call not anything your own, but let all things be held in common among you.” Regarding Chastity, he advises: “A holy man, then must fear to displease [God], and so keep himself from wishing sinfully to please a woman.” And concerning Obedience: “Obey as a father your local superior and still more carefully your higher superior who has charge of you all.”
These vows of religion are a complete donation of self to God, an act of the virtue of religion, from which we religious derive our name.
Universal Call. Are religious the only ones called to sanctity? No. All the baptized are called to sanctity. In what does sanctity consist? In the love of God. That’s it. Period. And that’s not some novelty of mine. It’s a fact. Read St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiae. He says that the degree of sanctity we achieve is the same as the measure of theological charity in our souls. When you die, if you are saved, your place in Heaven, your degree of glory, will be fixed by how much charity you had in your soul at your particular judgment.
What Good Vows? If everyone is called to sanctity and if charity is the measure of sanctity, then what good are the vows? The good of the vows and of religious life in general is that, lived properly, they help to increase charity in souls, and this in many ways. Negatively, the vows remove obstacles to sanctity by opposing the triple concupiscence (lust) St. James writes about: The concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and pride of life. The concupiscence of the flesh is combated by chastity; the concupiscence of the eyes (avarice), is combated by poverty, and the pride of life is combated by obedience.
Positive Aspect. But there is a positive aspect that we cannot overlook. Each of the vows is a commitment to live the virtues it entails; and these virtues of poverty, chastity, and obedience are an imitation of Christ’s life of loving union on earth with his heavenly Father. The vows also perfect the theological virtues. Obedience perfects faith, because we make an act of faith in the unseen God by “seeing him” in our superiors. Poverty perfects hope because, by renouncing private ownership we have taken the Lord as our portion (Deut. 10:9, Ps. 15:5) and trust that he will provide for our needs. Chastity perfects charity because it purifies, intensifies, augments, and dilates our love, giving us no other lover than God himself, the great lover of souls.
The profession of the vows is also an intense act of devotion – which is the principal act of the virtue of religion. In fact, the word “devotion” and the word “vow” come from the same root in Latin. Religion, a part of justice, is that virtue by which we render to God what is his due, namely: adoration, thanksgiving, reparation, and petition. All creation is called upon to render this debt of worship to God. Inanimate nature, plants, and animals do this by nature (read the Psalms, especially Psalm 148, where King David calls on all of creation to praise God. See also Daniel 3:52-90, the canticle of the three young men in the fiery furnace). But we men must render our homages to God according to our rational nature, with intellect and will, as well as all our other faculties of body and soul. Since not all men are faithful to this obligation, it is fitting that the Church appoint men and women to devote themselves to this duty exclusively. These are priests and religious. We religious are called “religious” precisely because we are specially consecrated to the worship of God.
Augustinianism. Religious life in the Augustinian tradition is a mystical entry into the upper room, where those first religious, the Apostles, and all the faithful with them, owned nothing of their own and lived in perfect unity and concord. The first rule our holy Legislator lays down is this: “The main purpose for you having come together is to live in unity in the house and be of one mind and one heart in God.” This shows that the religious life is like the life of a happy family. We are called “brother” and “sister” for that reason. Furthermore, our rule is an apostolic rule for an apostolic order. Many apostolic orders have used it as their rule: the Augustinian Hermits and Canons Regular, the Norbertines, the Dominicans, the Mercederians, and many others.
We too, wish to enter mystically into the upper room. And what do we find there? In five verses near the end of Acts Chapter two, we find everything the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary are all about. “And they were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles, and in the communication of the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” There we see faith in the teachings of the Church, we see the Church hierarchy, the sacraments, the spiritual life, and especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (which was called “the breaking of the bread” in the early Church). We read further: “And all they that believed, were together, and had all things common. Their possessions and goods they sold, and divided them to all, according as every one had need.” There we see religious poverty, as St. Augustine understood it, and, by implication, all the vows of religious consecration and the entire life of the counsels. The very last verse of that chapter even has something special about our Order’s particular apostolate: “And the Lord increased daily together such as should be saved.” Those who were to be saved were added to the Church because outside the church there is no salvation. And St. Peter told them that when he said, “Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins” (Acts 2:38). And “Save yourselves from this perverse generation” (Acts 2:40). Here we see the purpose of our apostolic life in a nutshell: to save people from this perverse generation.
How glorious is the religious life! It attracted the giant heart of St. Augustine away from his sinful ways so powerfully that he couldn’t resolve to be baptized until he first resolved to leave all and become a monk. Only the religious life could pry him away from spiritual death. He had to overshoot the mark before he could hit it. And how much the Church gained by his holy resolution!
The Divine Maternity. But today is the glorious feast of the Divine Maternity and we can’t leave our Lady out of our thoughts. Father Feeney would not allow one of his sons to do that. The Gospel for the Mass of the Divine Maternity is St. Luke’s description of the finding in the temple. Why do we get this Gospel today? I believe that what the Church would have us notice is that the same Jesus who looks at Mary in time and calls her “mother” looks at the First Person of the Blessed Trinity in eternity and calls him Father. As true God, he can say “Father” to the Eternal Father and as True Man he can say “Mother” to the Blessed Virgin. But there is a unity of those natures in the one Person Mary bore as the blessed fruit of her womb. Because of this, we can call her, and call her truly, the Mother of God. That is what the Council of Ephesus called her in 431: Theotokos, “God Bearer.” Father Feeney used to say, “Look at the baby Jesus in the arms of Mary. The same baby that truly calls Mary Mother can truly call God Father. That’s the Catholic Faith!”
St. Augustine was invited to the Council of Ephesus by St. Pulcheria, but died before it assembled. We can only wonder what beautiful contributions he would have made. For St. Augustine, Our Lady was the Mother of the Church because She was the Mother of God. As mother of Christ, she was mother of what St. Augustine called the “Whole Christ.” That “Whole Christ” includes Jesus the Head and us his members.
Bringing it Together. Can we bring the theme of this feast in to the occasion of the religious profession? Yes! As I said, our religious life is a mystical return to the apostolic upper room. Who was in that room with the Apostles? St. Luke tells us: “All these were persevering with one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus…” (Acts 1:14). There she is right when the Church receives the gift of the Holy Ghost: the Mother of the Church, Mother and Queen of the Apostles (those first religious), Mother of Men, and Mother of God.
Now a word to my Brothers: Be good religious. Stay close to Mary your mother as Jacob stayed with his mother Rebbecca. You are her Slaves. Chain yourselves to her by prayer and love and tell her, as Jacob told the Angel, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me” (Gen. 32:26) – and help me “leave the world behind and take refuge in God.”