On the Solemnity of Our Holy Father Benedict, 11 July 2020, Dom Isaias Kwasniewski made his Simple Profession of monastic vows...
On the Solemnity of Our Holy Father Benedict, 11 July 2020, Dom Isaias Kwasniewski made his Simple Profession of monastic vows at Silverstream Priory. With us for the joyous occasion was His Lordship of Meath, Dr Thomas Deenihan, as well as several other members of the clergy and friends of the monastery. Here is the homily Fr Prior preached for the occasion.
My dear son, Brother Isaias, the Introit of today's Mass opened with the very words that God addressed to Abraham: I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and magnify thy name, and thou shalt be blessed (Gen 12:2). The text of the Introit was, I think, chosen principally for the last phrase, erisque benedictus, which may be rendered either as, and thou shalt be blessed, or as, and thou shalt be Benedict. In the freedom that comes to her from the Holy Spirit, the Church takes words addressed by God to our father Abraham and today makes them words addressed by God to our father Saint Benedict. In some way, the same words are addressed to you, dear Brother Isaias, to those who have made profession here before you, and to all the generations of monks who, down through the ages, have gone before you along what Saint Benedict calls the hard and rugged paths by which we walk towards God (Ch. LVIII). To each of us, God says, erisque benedictus, and thou shalt be blessed. It is a sublime promise, and full of joy.
To grasp more fully the meaning of the Introit, one must look at the verse that comes before it: And the Lord said to Abram: Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house, and come into the land which I shall shew thee (Gen 12:1). This a verse that goes directly to the heart of your vocation: And the Lord said to Julian Kwasniewski: Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house, and come into the land which I shall shew thee. This was the call that you heard — is it possible? — four years ago. You were sixteen years old, a boy building rockets, playing the lute, dreaming dreams, and daring mad things. And today, four years later, the boy has become a young man, and the young man is called by the name of a prophet — and what a prophet! — Isaias! You, dear son, did what few would dare to do. Following, perhaps unwittingly, an ancient Irish tradition, you made yourself an exile for the love of Christ, a pilgrim, a stranger in a foreign land. Before being converted to Benedictine stabilitas, the Irish monks were great wanderers for Christ's sake, esteeming voluntary exile from one's homeland a witness to the love of Christ akin to martyrdom. Listen to what Saint Columbanus says in one of his sermons:
Singing on our journey let us say, Let us run after Thee towards the odour of Thy perfumes (Cant 1:3) and, My soul has clung behind Thee (Ps 62:8), and Draw me after Thee (Cant 1:3), that with these songs we may speedily pass through the world, and controlled from above may scorn the things of the present, and ever thinking of heavenly things may shun the things of earth; for unless we long unweariedly with heavenly desires, we must needs be entangled in earthly ones.
You, Brother Isaias, set out on your monastic journey singing. You are still singing, and, by the grace of Christ you will, I pray, sing to the end of your monastic journey, even as that most iconic of Benedictine saints — Bede the Venerable — did. Saint Augustine says, Cantare amantis est: Singing belongs to the one who loves. Why do we monks sing so much? Because we are lovers. Shakespeare's bare ruin'd choirs where late the sweet birds sang (Sonnet 73) are the desolate image of a Church deprived of the song of monks. The silence of Fore Abbey after its dissolution in 1539 lasted almost five hundred years, but, wondrously and mysteriously, God sent here new lovers and new singers to pick up where the last verse of the last psalm stopped, and you, dear son, are one of these. But listen again to Saint Columbanus:
Then, lest we be concerned with human things, let us concern ourselves with things divine, and as pilgrims ever sigh for and desire our homeland; for the end of the road is ever the object of travellers' hopes and desires, and thus, since we are travellers and pilgrims in the world, let us ever ponder on the end of the road, that is of our life, for the end of our roadway is our home.
Today, dear son, is the beginning of the road for you, but the end of the road is already in sight. If it were not, would you have dared to begin the journey? The heart of a monk is, while he is still on the way, already set on things no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart conceived, the welcome God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9). Saint Columbanus concludes:
Many lose their true home, because they love rather the road. Let us not love the roadway rather than the homeland, lest we lose our eternal home; for we have such a home that we ought to love it. Therefore let this principle abide with us, that on the road we so live as travellers, as pilgrims, as guests of the world, entangled by no lusts, longing with no earthly desires, but let us fill our minds with heavenly and spiritual impressions, singing with grace and power, When shall I come and appear before the face of my God? My soul thirsts for the mighty and living God (Ps 41:2) [from Sermon VII of Saint Columbanus].
The verse of the Introit, matched to the text from Genesis, gives us Saint Benedict's response — and yours, Brother Isaias — to the call of God. What is your response? It is this: Bless the Lord, O my soul, and let all that is within me bless His holy name (Ps 102:1). This goes to the heart of what it means to be a Benedictine: it is to be a man who blesses God with all that is within him. Insofar as a monk does this, he becomes a blessing to his brethren, and to his family even if they be far off, and to the whole Church.
The Gospel for this feast echoes the word addressed by God to Abraham; it is the word that Jesus addressed to Peter and to the other Apostles: And every man that has forsaken home, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for My name’s sake, shall receive his reward a hundredfold, and obtain everlasting life (Matt 19:29).
In making your Simple Profession, dear son, you are forsaking much. You are leaving behind people, and places, and things dear to you, and even people, and places, and things that, had you tarried in the world, could have become dear to you and held you back. When a novice approaches the altar to sing his Suscipe me, Domine, for the first time, he is less conscious of what is behind him than he is of what lies before him. And what is it that lies before you today?
The Offertory Antiphon will spell it out for you, Brother Isaias, and for all of us: Desiderium cordis ejus tribuisti ei, et voluntate labiorum ejus non fraudasti eum. The desire of his heart thou hast given him, the prayer on his lips thou hast not denied him (Ps 20:3). The Offertory Antiphon would have us understand this verse with regard to Saint Benedict, but what you are doing here today, dear son, authorises you to take this same verse as a promise made to you: The desire of your heart He will not disappoint, the prayer on your lips He will not deny you.
In some way, dear Brother Isaias, the Oratio Secreta (the Prayer over the Oblations) on this feast of Saint Benedict will become a prayer over you, for you, in a mysterious but real way, will rest on the corporal with the bread and wine set apart for the Holy Sacrifice. What is the prayer that will seal the setting apart of the holy oblations today? It is this:
Suscipe, omnipotens Deus . . . Take unto Thyself, O all-powerful God, this sacrificial gift which we offer Thee on the festival of our Holy Father, the Abbot Benedict, so that even as Thou didst grant him Thy surpassing love, so also Thou wouldst, through his fatherly care, set ablaze in us the fire of divine charity.
There is in this prayer, dear son, all that your monastic profession means. In raising your hands aloft, you will ask the Father to bend low and lift you up, even to Himself. Whatsoever and whosoever God takes to Himself becomes, by that very fact, a sacrifice, something or someone utterly made over to God alone. The prayer alludes to the surpassing love that it pleased God to give Saint Benedict. All that God gave to Saint Benedict He gave him as a gratia capitis, that is, as a grace destined to overflow onto the progeny that would be his down through the ages. The surpassing love given once to our father Saint Benedict was bestowed in sufficient abundance for all his sons and daughters, down to the very last monk on earth. Today, the same surpassing love flows fresh from the same source to enter your heart, Brother Isaias, and this with a force and impetuosity that is unmistakably divine. By bending your neck to the sweet yoke of the Holy Rule, you are giving Saint Benedict a claim on your life. And what is the effect of such a claim on you? It is a kind of conflagration of love. Yes, says the bride of the Canticle, love is a fire no waters avail to quench, no floods to drown; for love, a man will give up all that he has in the world, and think nothing of his loss (Cant 8:7). Give up all that you have in the world, dear son, and think nothing of the loss. Erisque benedictus. In this, you will be blessed, and all of us with you. Amen.
Dom Mark Daniel Kirby, "Homily for the Simple Profession of Dom Isaias Maria Kwasniewski, O.S.B." In Coenaculo (August, 2020).
Reprinted with permission of Silverstream Priory. Silverstream Priory is a Benedictine monastery in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The monastery is an autonomous diocesan priory of the Benedictine Monks of Perpetual Adoration.
Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is the prior of Silverstream priory.Copyright © 2020 Silverstream Priory
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