We Are All Called to be Witnesses of God’s Love
As I wrote about in a previous posting, in June of this year I gave our daughter Shannon away in marriage to a fine young man named Daniel. By the time this reflection is posted I will have walked another daughter, Cara, down the aisle, to place her hand in the hand of her soon-to-be husband.
Coincidentally, in between these two joyful family occasions, Mary Jo and I have had the privilege of attending two ceremonies in which two beautiful young women professed their final vows as religious sisters. Both of these women are friends of our oldest daughter and we got to know them over the years through this connection. One of them entered the order of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The other professed her vows as a Dominican Sister in the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary, a cloistered monastery located here in Buffalo, NY. Two Dominican Orders, but with very different charisms. One of these nuns is now teaching physics at a high school in Texas, while the other has pledged to live out her life of prayer, sacrifice, and worship within the confines of the walled monastery with her fellow sisters.
It seems somewhat rare to have the privilege to witness two such professions of final vows within a couple of months of each other and we considered it a blessing to be invited to attend both of them.
What struck me while we were witnessing these two women profess their final vows were the similarities between the profession ceremony and that of a wedding ceremony. Of course, when you stop to think about it, it should really not be surprising that both ceremonies share many commonalities. The union of a man and a woman in Christian marriage and the profession of vows of a young woman are both marriage ceremonies. In one, the woman takes the man she stands beside in the presence of God, as her husband. In the other the woman becomes the bride of Christ. Both are vows to life-long commitments. Both are undertaken within the outline of the Eucharistic celebration. Both involve a complete and absolute giving of self.
This total giving of self is made evident in a very poignant manner by the nun, when she lies prostrate before the altar at the beginning of the ceremony. She offers her entire being and places herself into the hands of her Spouse, Jesus Christ. It is such a powerful and prophetic witness to the universal Church. It is a moment which words cannot fully describe nor capture. To me, it is a moment full of hope: hope to see a new vocation come to fruition. Hope that our Church is alive and attracting young men and women to a life of service and holiness as priests and sisters. It is the same hope evident at the marriage ceremony between husband and wife, when we experience the hope of that new vocation.
In the case of the most recent ceremony we attended, the profession of vows as a cloistered Dominican Nun, part of the ceremony involved the imposition of the Order’s veil on the newly professed nun, reminiscent of the veil worn by many brides on their wedding day. Also, in a manner similar to the exchange of wedding bands between husband and wife, the cloistered Dominican nuns receive a ring to serve as a sign of their “betrothal to the eternal King, to keep faith with your Bridegroom,” to use the words from the ceremony.
The profession ceremony concluded with a blessing by the celebrant. The bishop asked for heavenly grace in order for the nun to “carry out the responsibilities of her vocation with a faithful heart.” He beseeched the grace to “be a witness and sign of divine love,” in order for her service “be efficacious on behalf of the Church and the human family.” Certainly, these same words could be recited at the marriage ceremony between a husband and wife.
Are not each one of us then, whether married, single or professed religious, in our own state of life, called to be such witnesses and signs of the divine love of our Creator.?
In these times in which we now live, which tend to forget or even deny the existence of God, I take great joy in witnessing both of these ceremonies: the marriage ceremony and that of profession of vows, which are both beautiful and prophetic reminders of our call to be such witnesses to the world of God’s great love for us.