A Reflection on the Meaning of Solemn Profession by Sr. Mary Magdalene
A dear friend and former roommate of mine wrote and asked me, “What does ‘Solemn Profession’ mean to you?” This is what I came up with and replied.
I’ve come up with three aspect: 1) conversion, 2) spousal, and 3) holocaust.
- Conversion. The Gospel reading from today’s Mass spells it out.(Matthew 21:28-32) “Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people, ‘What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the father’s will?’ They answered, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you…”
Really, which did the father’s will? Who was more obedient? I’d argue that neither was completely obedient. To be honest, the first said, “no” and then changed his mind, and the second never carried out the good intentions he had. So, like St. Mary Magdalene we need the grace of conversion to change our already spoken “no” into an act of obedience. Every time that I am really struggling with this vocation I realized that it is something within me that needs to be converted, something that needs to be given up to God. The point of conversion is to be changed, to turn away from sin, to become holy, and rid of faults. To follow that idea through, the grace of conversion goes along with perseverance which is what is lacking in the second son. He is parallel to Solomon, who had God’s wisdom to say “yes” but not the determination to stick with it and ended his life with 700 wives. St. Thomas distinguishes that the grace to enter is not the same as the grace to perverse in a religious vocation. Every day I beg God to give me the grace of conversion and the grace of perseverance.
- Spousal. The second dimension is spousal like Hosea 2:16 “I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.” And again in Hosea 2:21-23 “I will espouse you to me forever; I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and fidelity and you shall know the Lord. On that day I will respond, says the Lord; I will respond to the heavens, and they will respond to the earth.” As His bride I have a deep rooted desire to please Him, to love Him, to know everything about Him, to spend time with Him, etc. We are brides of Christ, called to belong entirely to Him with no earthly man as a husband and no natural children. So, in this spiritual sense Christ is my Spouse and all baptized “children of God” become my spiritual children and I become their spiritual mother. We are called “sister” as spiritual mothers, we have a duty or right to maternally care for the spiritual well-being of our spiritual children and the salvation of souls, particularly as contemplatives recommending them in prayer; to bring them to God and to leave them in His Hands.
- Holocaust. So, the big aspect of Solemn Profession is the offering of my entire being, my life, and everything I own as a total holocaust, a complete self-gift, offered up to God. A holocaust cut off from what is profane and especially dedicated to God, a deepening of baptismal consecration. In the Old Testament covenant, the priests (Levites) made sacrifices of bulls, goats, rams, turtledoves, etc. but God keeps telling them that they are missing the purpose of why they are making the sacrifice. For example, 1 Samuel 15:22 “Does the Lord so delight in holocausts and sacrifices as in obedience to the command of the Lord? Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission than the fat of rams.” And Hosea 6:6, “For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts.” Submission to God’s will is more pleasing and important than the external observation of a slaughtered goat. So, all religious through the vows make a holocaust of themselves, a total sacrifice. In solemn profession, as contrasted with perpetual profession, a religious renounces even the “right to ownership”, which is something that human dignity entitles to the individual. This is true poverty. The ideal of poverty of spirit is that all things comes from God and rightly belong to God, as St. Paul says, “What do you have that you did not received?” (1 Cor 4:7) Taking a small step back to #2, this total holocaust includes through chastity offering up our bodies, marital relations for the sake of the kingdom as in Matt 19:12, “Some choose to be eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom,” and 1 Cor 7:34 “An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit.”
So you see, this is a great day of joy, not just for me, but the graces flow out onto anyone willing to receive them. It’s a beautiful manifestation of God’s love. As the Scripture reads, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Mt 6:21) My heart is His. In this public Profession I claim Him ad mortem (until death). I remember that quote from Bl. Mother Teresa, “The woman who is called knows it.” From the moment I heard that back in 2007, I knew in my heart, now the only thing I had to do was respond. The sealing of that response will be January 1st 2015 at 3PM at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary. You’re all invited!