Sunday, January 17, 2016

"For the sake of the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross"

Happy Feast of St. Anthony of the Desert and First Sunday of the Triodion: the Sunday of the Publican & the Pharisee! 

Newsletter Reflection 2 of 6

A Reflection from Mother Cecilia about her Profession on Nov. 8

After our profession, Sr. Iliana commented to me, “At the beginning of the profession you were very serious, but at a certain point you were suddenly smiley and didn’t stop smiling!”  I knew exactly what she was talking about.  As I stood before the bishop and responded to each of his questions, “Yes, Master, with God’s help,” I felt the weight of these life-long promises I was making.  Then the bishop began to read to us the catechesis that follows his questions. These instructions, too, are very serious.  But then the bishop said the following words, and everything changed in my heart:

“Always be sensible and mature, ever inspired by the vision of the good things of eternity, which are the desire of everyone who lives for God.  Think of the martyrs and all the holy ones who have pleased God since the world began; think of their sweat and labor, of the blood they shed, and how they obtained these eternal riches only through death.  Endure difficulties as a loyal soldier of Christ, for because of us He became poor, and dwelt in our midst so that we might share the riches of His Kingdom.” 

At that moment, God held out the Kingdom to me. I understood its immense joy, both in the next life and in this life, for “the Kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17:21). I wanted to give everything—my whole life and my whole being—to receive this Kingdom. I wanted to sacrifice everything to live for this Kingdom, not only for myself but in order to draw the whole world into it as well.  I wanted to give myself totally to the One who was offering Himself to me. I did, as best as I could, and I was filled with incredible joy.

It is monastic tradition to remain in the monastery chapel for five days after the profession, “resting from all work, except reading, and abiding in spiritual contemplation and mental prayer.”  When this profound experience of union with my Bridegroom was completed, the first piece of news I heard was about the attacks in Paris.  For the first time in my life, it occurred to me that I might be called to be a “red” martyr—to literally shed my blood for Jesus.  I realized that the “white” martyrdom of monastic life is training for that.  Each day as we “die” to ourselves in the little moments, setting aside our own wills and desires for love of God and others, we are preparing to give the bigger offering of our lives.

When I came out of my five-day retreat, or “honeymoon,” I also experienced another reality: I really felt like a mother!  I instantly received a great motherly concern and tender love for every person, all of whom are my spiritual children.  Monastic life makes even more sense to me from the vantage point of a mother.  A mother sets herself aside for her children. She “dies daily” (1 Cor 15:31) for them, and this is her great joy.

Martyrs and mothers teach me so much, but it is ultimately Jesus, my Bridegroom, who will help me to die for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Just as God held out the Kingdom to me during my profession, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says, “For the sake of the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross…” (12:2). Jesus’ infinite love compelled Him to run to the cross, and it is only by transforming me into this love that I will be able to be the offering of love that I vowed to be.

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