Simple Profession of Brother Cassian Maria Aylward, O.S.B.
13 January 2018
Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
Vidit Joannes Jesum venientem ad se.
John saw Jesus coming towards him. (John 1:29)
My very dear son, allow me to I say to you again today what I said to you on the day of your clothing in the holy habit on 1 July 2016: “You have flown over oceans and over mountains, over islands and over continents to come to this place, to this day, and to this hour. You have not journeyed alone. You have pressed forward step by step, surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses over your head (Hebrews 12:1). You have journeyed, not in the company of the learned and the clever, nor with those whom the world judges wise, nor with those whom the world counts among the powerful, but in the company of those whom you are fond of calling the littlest souls”.
Not by coincidence was this day, the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, chosen for your profession. No sooner had I chosen today’s feast for your profession than we received – Oh! The delicate attentions of Divine Providence!— the splendid painting of the Baptism of Our Lord that now hangs here in the Oratory.
Why did you leave your father and your mother, and your brothers, Matt and Luke, and your dear grandparents, and your all mates in Australia? Why did you leave the sunshine and sparkling waves of the beaches of Sydney for this darkling east coast of Ireland? Why did you forsake the opportunities offered you by the world to travel the globe to this place, coming to this day, and to this hour? You did it because, like John the Baptist in today’s Gospel, you saw Jesus coming towards you. Vidit Joannes Jesum venientem ad se. “John saw Jesus coming towards him” (John 1:29). You, also, dear son, saw Jesus coming towards you. Everything in you stirred, and woke, and rose to go towards Him whom first you saw coming towards you, and the words of the psalmist came to flower on your own lips: Paratum cor meum, Deus, paratum cor meum, “My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready” (Psalm 56:8). To those who ask you, “But why a monk?” you can answer only this: Vidi Jesum venientem ad me, “I saw Jesus coming towards me”. There is no other explanation for the profession of the three vows of stability, conversion of manners, and obedience that you are about to make.
The grace of your profession is wondrously illumined by today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord. While the chants of the Mass and the lesson are those of January 6th — so that we not lose the thread that ties today’s feast to the illumination of the nations and the adoration of the Magi — the Collect, Gospel, Secret, and Postcommunion are proper to the Baptism of the Lord. This means that if we are to look anywhere for the special grace of today’s feast, it is in these elements of Holy Mass. The Collect made us ask that “we may be inwardly reformed by Him, whom we recognise to have been outwardly like unto ourselves”.
O God, Whose only-begotten Son appeared in the substance of our flesh, grant, we beseech Thee, that we may be inwardly reformed by Him, whom we recognise to have been outwardly like ourselves. (Collect)
This, dear son, is not a grace for which most of us would, of ourselves, dare ask. It is a risky thing to say to God, “reform me inwardly”. We recoil from change, especially when the change touches us personally. I am reminded of what none other than Satan said to God in the first chapter of the book of Job: “Stretch forth thy hand a little, and touch all that he hath, and see if he blesseth thee not to thy face” (Job 1:11). You, dear son, are about to make profession of conversatio morum. This means that you will give God full and unlimited permission to make you the monk He would have you be. One doesn’t enter a monastery to be safe, and comfortable, and cosy. One enters to take the great risk, saying to God: “Change Thou me, as Thou wilt, when Thou wilt, and in the way Thou wilt, and to Thy divine reforming action, I shall add my little Amen of adoration and submission”.
The Gospel shows us the effect of the reform that God would operate in us: the Father, by the deep and efficacious operations of the Holy Ghost, causes a cry of recognition to well up from the depths of the heart:
For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba Father. (Romans 8:14–15)
For too many, the great baptismal grace that is divine adoption remains something notional, something vague and, as it were, something obscure in the back of one’s mind. This is why, in every age, God raises up saints, and doctors, and mystics to call us back to what makes Christianity different from every other religion, philosophy, ethical system, and mystical meandering on the planet: divine sonship by adoption. We are, by grace, what Jesus is by nature, “that he might be the firstborn amongst many brethren” (Romans 8:29). Sons in the Son. Filii in Filio. All the Fathers taught this. The Doctors scrutinised it and marveled at the divine condescension: a Father who, in infusing His own life into man, recognises Himself in man and allows man to recognise himself in God. What the Father says of His Firstborn, He repeats of each one born anew by grace: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). What the Eternal Son says, facing the Father in an eternal ecstasy of love, every son by adoption repeats in turn: “Abba Father” (Romans 8:14). Mother Mectilde seized upon this in the 17th century and wrote about it in her letters. Saint Thérèse, Blessed Abbot Marmion, Blessed Ildephonsus Schuster, and a host of others great and small were raised up in modern times to say to souls: “You are not mere seekers after wisdom, you are not slaves in submission to a remote divinity, you are not keepers of a moral order; you are sons in the Son”.
As if this were not enough, the Secret of today’s Holy Mass tells that we are also sharers in the priesthood of the Son. The Secret calls Our Lord Jesus Christ “Himself the author of our sacrificial gifts”. Ipse nostrorum auctor est munerum. You, dear son, will stand before the altar today to place yourself upon it, to become a gift with the Gift, a lamb with the Lamb, a victim with the Victim. Saint Paul says, “What hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). This is the great movement of the Mass: offer what you have received, and then receive what you have offered. Offer the Lamb of God, and receive the Lamb of God. Every day, from the rising of the sun to its setting, the words of Abraham to Isaac are wondrously fulfilled:
Isaac said to his father: My father. And he answered: What wilt thou, son? Behold, saith he, fire and wood: where is the lamb for the sacrifice? And Abraham said: God will provide himself a lamb for the sacrifice, my son. So they went on together. (Genesis 22:7–8)
And every day, from the rising of the sun to its setting, the words of Saint John the Baptist echo, again and again, across the face of the earth:
Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sin of the world.(John 1:29).
The Postcommunion of today’s Holy Mass is a prayer not only for this day of your profession, dear son, but also for the rest of your monastic life. There will be days on which you will find yourself surrounded by obscurity and walking in uncertainty. Today’s Postcommunion puts one in mind of Blessed John Henry Newman’s Lead, Kindly Light:
We pray Thee, O Lord, to go before us at all times and in all places with Thy heavenly light, that we may discern with clear sight and receive with worthy affection the mystery of which Thou hast willed that we should partake. (Postcommunion)
Today, without excluding the heavenly light of the star that guided the Magi, the sacred liturgy would have us gaze upon the heavenly light that shone upon the Face of Christ as He emerged from the waters of the Jordan. It is the same light that radiates invisibly from the Face of Christ hidden in the Sacred Host. This is the light that even before coming to Silverstream, shone in your soul when “you saw Jesus coming towards you”. In making your monastic profession today, dear son, know this: in the hours, and days, and months, and years that lie ahead of you, there will not be a single moment when Jesus is not coming towards you. Vidit Joannes Jesum venientem ad se. And should anyone, intrigued, or bewildered, or fascinated by the choice you have made, ask you why you became a monk, give them the only answer possible, the one answer intelligible even to the littlest souls: Vidi Jesum venientem ad me, “I saw Jesus coming towards me”.