Simple Profession of Dom Hildebrand Maria Houser
Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
6 August 2018
My dear son, the day I welcomed you into this monastery as a postulant, nearly two years ago, I took you by the hand and led you into the Oratory while the brethren sang this verse of Psalm 83:
Better is one day in thy courts above thousands; blessed are they that dwell in thy house, O Lord. (Psalm 83: 11.5)
By Our Lord’s grace and mercy, you have spent not one day, but a succession of days in this house of the Lord, learning in humility and in obedience “all the hard and rugged paths by which we walk towards God” (Holy Rule, Ch. 58). As a novice, you began to live your exodus: a letting go of the things that, in the world, gave you some measure of security, even as a priest; a leaving behind of things dear and familiar. In the silence of your heart, you heard the voice of Jesus saying just for you what He says to every man drawn into the radiance of His adorable countenance:
If any man has a mind to come my way, let him renounce self, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. He who tries to save his life will lose it; it is the man who loses his life for my sake, that will save it. (Luke 9:23–24)
Your exodus is far from over, but today you are given a moment of rest and of wonder on a high mountain in a place apart. Having completed a certain apprenticeship in the things by which a man becomes a monk — that is, by which a man allows his life to be broken and then reshaped around The One Thing Necessary — you are, I think, surprised and delighted by the song that the liturgical providence of God places on your lips:
How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord. (Psalm 83:2–3)
The psalm intoned at the beginning of this Holy Mass of your monastic profession is the very one that we sang on the day when I welcomed you among us. “How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts!” Even on the most monotonous and hardest of days, a certain chaste and humble loveliness pervades the monastic life. It is the light that shines from the Face of Christ reflected on ordinary things and on the familiar faces of one’s fathers and brothers. It is the light that is given to each man, not in a dazzling brightness, nor with equal intensity to each. The light that shines from the Face of Christ, in this exodus of ours, is given to each man in view of the next step.
How blessed is the man who finds his strength in thee! Where there are hearts set on pilgrimage, the parched ravine turns into a water-course at their coming, new-clad by the bounty of returning rain. So, at each stage refreshed, they will reach Sion, and have sight there of the God who is above all gods. (Psalm 83:6–8)
The feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord is wonderfully suited to the act of monastic profession. The liturgy of the feast condenses, into a single icon for the eyes of the heart and into a single song for the ears of the heart, all that a monk needs to see and hear in order to go forward in his exodus. The words of our father Saint Benedict at the very beginning of the Holy Rule echo and are fulfilled in the words of the Eternal Father on the holy mountain.
Hearken, O my son, to the precepts of thy Master, and incline the ear of thine heart. (Holy Rule, Prologue)
And now, there was a voice which said to them out of the cloud, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; to him, then, listen. (Matthew 17:5)
The promise enshrined for you and, indeed, for each of us today in Psalm 83 echo and point to the words of our father Saint Benedict at the very end of the Holy Rule:
At each stage refreshed, they will reach Sion, and have sight there of the God who is above all gods. (Psalm 83:8)
Whoever, therefore, thou art that hasteneth to thy heavenly country, fulfil by the help of Christ this least of Rules which we have written for beginners; and then at length thou shalt arrive, under God’s protection, at the lofty summits of doctrine and virtue of which we have spoken above. (Holy Rule, Chapter 73)
The monastic exodus begins in listening and is fulfilled in seeing. All along the way we are given the shining Mysterious Presence of which the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night were but fading figures and passing portents. If you would arrive, dear son, by the help of Christ and under God’s protection; if you would reach Sion and there see God face–to–face; if you would enter into the experience of Peter, James, and John on the holy mountain, who, “lifting up their eyes saw no one but only Jesus” (Matthew 17:8), then fix your gaze on the whiteness of the Host; accustom yourself to seeing nunc per speculum in ænigmate (“now as in a mirror dimly”, 1 Corinthians 13:12); and in those seasons and hours of your exodus when your ears will hear nought but silence, and your eyes see nought but darkness, repeat humbly and with utter confidence the words that so often you sing:
Iesu, quem velatum nunc aspicio,
oro fiat illud quod tam sitio;
ut te revelata cernens facie,
visu sim beatus tuae gloriae.
Jesus, whom now veiled, I by faith descry,
What my soul doth thirst for, do not, Lord, deny,
That thy face unveiled, I at last may see,
With the blissful vision blest, my God, of Thee.