UPDATE: Sr. Mary Martin's homily from the Vesition Ceremony added below.
Our annual retreat concluded this morning with the ceremony of the beginning of the novitiate and clothing of the holy habit for Sr. Martha Soli who has been a postulant with us for 10 months.
The ceremony, which is always private, is traditionally held in the Chapter Hall, however, with the heat and the fact that our Chapter Hall has no windows and therefore no ventilation we held the simple ceremony in the Choir with the air conditioning on, much to the relief of Sr. Mary Martin and Sr. Mary Catharine who were wearing their wool cappas!
OK, we know that you only been skimming the above paragraphs because you are anxious to know Sr. Martha's new religious name! Don't forget, the nuns have to wait until almost the end of the ceremony to find out, also!
Sr. Mary Martin said clearly and slowly:
"In the world you were known as Martha Dawn Soli, your name in the Order will be:
From the beginning of the Order the clothing ceremony has always been simple and sober for both Dominican friars and nuns although there was a period after the French Revolution when things got fancy with bridal dresses, the Te Deum and the presentation of a crown of roses and a crown of the thorns. (And God help the new novice if she chose the crown of roses! We hear it DID happen once!) Vestition took place after a Solemn High Mass and often dwarfed the Profession ceremony of another Sister on that same day. Fortunately, after Vatican II, the Nuns regained our ancient traditions of a simple ceremony in the Chapter Hall which is similiar to that of the Cistercians.
My dear Sisters and Brother,
And the Lord said to Abram: “Leave your country and your people and your father’s house for the land that I will show you.” Thus began the longest journey in human history, the journey from natural polytheism to faith in divine revelation, from the land of one’s birth to the land of promise, from this world to paradise. Abraham began the journey, the chosen people continued it, Christians took a fresh start from the cross of Christ, Abraham’s seed, and we ourselves are presently engaged in that same journey, each in our own life. Today, Sr. Martha, who has chosen this reading, takes a new step in the same journey.
In the first Eucharistic Prayer, Abraham is called “our father in faith.” It took a tremendous act of faith for Abraham to leave everything to follow an unknown God to an unknown land and a future built on promise only. We who were baptized in our infancy nevertheless had to make the same adult act of faith when we followed the Lord’s call to the monastery. Sister Martha now, in following her vocation, is acting in the same faith. She is asking to receive the habit, to begin in a formal manner her religious life. She is entrusting her future to the Lord Jesus in this community.
But this act of faith, this act of entrustment of our lives to the Lord Jesus, is itself a gift. “It was not you who chose me but I who chose you,” Jesus tells his disciples, among whom we are. It was the Lord who spoke first to Abraham and in the very invitation was included the grace to say yes. God’s choice and call are a tremendous act of love for us, calling for our love in return. The days, months and years ahead will not be easy for Sr. Martha, any more than they are easy for any of us, but they will be filled with the beautiful friendship of Jesus Christ, who shares all his secrets with us, everything he has heard from his Father. To share such friendship with Jesus is already to be in the Promised Land, even though in another sense we may have a very long way to go on our journey.
It is especially fitting that Sr. Martha has chosen this reading from the book of Genesis because today begins the year dedicated to St. Paul. Abraham – his person, his vocation, his faith, his offspring – is very important to St. Paul, a cornerstone of his theology of the redemption wrought in Christ Jesus. Let us ask the intercession of both St. Peter and St. Paul that Sr. Martha and each one of us may continue to walk in faith, following our Blessed Savior into the land of promise where he already reigns for ever and ever. Amen.