Christus factus est obediens—The Prioress' sermon at the Mandatum.
Vita in ligno moritur: infernus et mors lugens spoliatur.
(Life dies upon the tree; hell and death, mourning, are robbed of their prey.—from the ancient intercessions used in the Dominican Rite and sung this morning at Lauds.)
My dear sisters,
Christus factus est pro nobis obediens usque ad mortem. "Christ for our sake became obedient unto death." In the days just ahead of us, we will repeat constantly this beautiful phrase. I first gave a sermon on this text the year that Sr. Mary Albert was dying, as she was entering into her final obedience, and I have thought of it very often since. Now that both my parents have died so recently, I think of it again.
We religious voluntarily make a vow of obedience until death, but the dying observe all the vows whether they want to or not. Mom and Dad, independent for so many years, were in the end deprived of their own home, most of their clothing and possessions, the food they liked, the schedule they were used to, even one another’s companionship as Dad drifted off into a pain-reliever induced state of isolation and Mom napped much of the day, even before he died. I’m sure most of us could make similar observations about their loved ones. We who have made the vows freely have embraced a state of death in advance, the state of Christ’s death on the cross, as Cassian eloquently expounds in his Conferences. This is difficult for us precisely because it is a voluntary state; very few of us are actually near physical death, at least not that we are aware of. But if we are going to be faithful to Jesus and his dying, we must embrace death and its deprivations day by day.
The antiphon says Christus factus est obediens. In Latin, factus est has both active and passive connotations: Christ became obedient, Christ was made obedient. The phrase can be translated either way and either translation is correct because, as we know, both senses of the word are true. Christ freely embraced our human state, including death, death on a cross: he became obedient. Christ did this by the will of the Father, and in conformity to the Father’s will he endured the suffering inflicted on him by sinful men, even unto death: he was made obedient. The same is true for us. We will die, whether we like it or not, and when God wills. By our profession we have freely embraced this death in advance and try to live it every day. The measure in which we are faithful is the measure in which we will be ready to embrace the physical actuality when it comes.
Christ became obedient pro nobis, for us. He did this and it was done to him out of love, for us and for our salvation. We have also taken on a state of obedience out of love, love for the Father, in Christ Jesus and by the power of their Spirit. This obedience is also pro nobis, for ourselves, for our salvation, as well as for God’s glory. We are also obedient for one another, since this obedience makes community life and the living of the other vows possible. During the coming days, and every day, let us unite ourselves with Christ in his obedience unto death, so that, having fulfilled our sublime Christian vocation, we may be exalted with him before whom every knee must bend. By our lives, let us proclaim him "Lord" to the glory of God the Father.