Yesterday, Susan and I along with several other members of the family made the trek from the Twin Cities up to Saint John’s Abbey located at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. We went there to attend the first vows monastic profession of my nephew, Michael-Leonard who has become a Benedictine Monk. I was deeply impressed that the commitments my nephew and three other young men made, are commitments every true follower of Jesus must make if we are to follow Christ whole-heartedly.
The liturgical ceremony, which took place in the stunning University Church designed by famed architect Marcel Breuer, was a very moving service. It was officiated by the abbot who is the spiritual leader of the monastic community and presides over life in the monastery. The antiphonal singing by all the monks, the reading of scriptures, message by the abbot, professions of three-year vows by the four novices, followed by communion was an impacting testimony to the power of devotion to God and commitment to community.
Christian monastic communities, like the Benedictines of St. Johns, date back to the 3rd and 4th centuries. The pattern for monastic living was first spelled out in the “Rule of Benedict” written by Benedict of Nursia (Italy) in the early 5th century. For this reason, St. Benedict is often called the founder of western Christian monasticism.
The “Rule of St. Benedict” consists of seventy-three short chapters addressing primarily two aspects of the Christian life, how to live a Christ-centered life on earth and how to do life together in a monastery. As part of the ceremony, each of the men making their profession received a special copy of the “Rule of St. Benedict.”
The abbot’s message centered on an explanation of the three commitments each was about to make: Obedience, Stability, and Conversion. These commitments are based on the three scripture readings that prefaced his message: Numbers 21:4-9 (an admonition to those living in community not to grumble), Philippians 2:6-11 (about Christ Jesus as our example,, humbling Himself as a servant and becoming obedient to death on the cross.) and John 3:14-17 (about salvation through faith in Jesus, God’s Son.)
The abbot began his message by saying this: “These commitments, like the paradox of the cross, create space for the Holy Spirit to work. The good news is that in the free embrace of limits we find true freedom rooted in the grace and call of the Holy Spirit.”
Here are the three commitments the novices made and a brief overview of the abbot’s explanation.
1. Obedience – this is committing oneself to listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit, spiritual leaders in our lives and the community of believers of which we are a part. It is the pathway out of narcissism where we are enabled to put the good of others before our own good. We are to become obedient as Jesus was obedient. It is a commitment to live in the present moment and to ask “what does this person or situation need of me right now?”
2. Stability – this is a commitment to maintain loving community. It is pledging to love and forgive the specific people God has placed in my life right now. We are enabled to do this by trusting in God’s love and promises. This is not some generic commitment to love all human kind. Christ’s love, is love expressed first and foremost to the people nearest to us.
3. Conversion – this is a commitment to stay in Christian community. It is a commitment to stay at the table – to participate at the community table in talking, thinking and deciding together. It is committing oneself to pray with and for one another. Conversion is a call to listen to the scriptures and to turn away from sin. It is a call to stay engaged even when “we brush up against one another and it is hard at times.” This is often an indication that we need to change and by God’s grace we can change even though we may want to quit or give up.
Commitments like these should not be relegated only to monastic living. I believe with all my heart that these are key ingredients every church should evidence as followers of Christ. With Bridgewood Community Church’s fall launch of our new Under Construction sermon series, my hope is that everyone who calls BCC home will make this kind of commitment to a small group and experience true Christian community.
Any thoughts you have about these commitments?
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