First Profession of Br David Yates
Today we celebrate the most unusual of feasts in that it has no less that four names, three of them deriving from the event it celebrates and one from the rite that takes place before Mass begins, the blessing of candles. So in the West we have Candlemas, the Purification of Our Lady and the Presentation of Our Lord, while in the East we have the Feast of Meeting, Hypapante in Greek, referring to Christ who enters his Temple in order to meet with his people, represented by Simeon and Anna. And, of course, it is the last day of Christmas, the fortieth day since the birth of Jesus, the last feast of the Advent to Epiphany cycle, which at the same time looks forward to the season of Lent and the Easter cycle of feasts. "A sword will pierce your own soul too," says Simeon to Mary as he sees, in the Christ Child, the Messiah born to suffer and die for our sins. If we go back further, to the dawn of creation, today is also the halfway mark between the shortest day and the spring equinox.
But in future years, you, dear Br David, will celebrate on 2nd February yet another event, another anniversary, that of your monastic profession. Yes, I know that in three years'time you will have to make your solemn or final profession, but this is the one that counts. In many ways and for several reasons a monastic profession is very much like today's feast and reflects the important events we celebrate in the life of Our Lord and his blessed Mother. Let's look at them briefly and pray that your whole life will be a constant living out the implications of today's feast.
To begin with, Meeting or Encounter. You are making your profession today because it was the Lord Jesus himself who met you on the road of life and, during that encounter, called you to be his very own, first as a Catholic and then as a monk of Belmont. That meeting changed your life. You knew there and then that life would never be the same again. Like Simeon you took the Lord Jesus in your arms and blessed God, saying, " Now, Lord, let your servant go in peace, according to your promise, for my eyes have seen the salvation, which you have prepared for all the world to see, a light of revelation for the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel." That personal encounter with the Lord has marked you for life, as it has done all the saints of history. Just think of St Paul and his experience on the road to Damascus.
Purification. Having given birth to Jesus, Son of God and Saviour of the world, Mary, like all good Jewish women, stayed hidden for forty days, until such time as she could come to the Temple to be purified and so give thanks for the birth of her child. This custom was kept faithfully until recent times in all traditional Christian societies where the churching of women was a significant family celebration. The novitiate, to some extent, reflects those forty days of hidden life, a life hidden with Christ in God, a period of nurturing the birth of a vocation. You have, as it were, been purified of your former life, the good and the bad, and you are now ready to come before the altar of God in his Temple and say, "Here I am, O Lord, I come to do your will." In this sacrifice of praise, Jesus himself leads the way and Our Lady accompanies you with her powerful intercession.
Presentation. The Belmont Community, led by the Abbot and Novice Master, bring you as though we were proud parents and present you to the Lord. Your own dear mother joins us in doing this. We follow the example of Mary who brought the Infant Jesus to the Temple, as Hannah brought Samuel and all the holy women of the Bible brought their sons to be given to the Lord for his service. Like Mary and Joseph we too are wondering at the things that are being said about you and at what you might become. Our only prayer, like theirs, is that you will be pleasing to God and that, by his divine grace, you will become holy and spotless, a sacrifice without blemish, an icon of Christ himself, the Lamb of God.
Candlermas. Jesus told his disciples, "You are the light of the world." To the extent that you give yourself wholly to Christ and live your life in him and in the power of his Spirit, through the keeping of your vows and through a life of constant prayer and true humility, then you too will be "a light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of God's people Israel". Like the candles that were blessed this morning, and that will lighten the darkness not only of this church but of our very lives, you have been called by God to the Benedictine way of life to be a light in the darkness of the world around us. It's a frightening thought and you must be wondering what you've let yourself in for, but for God nothing is impossible: all you need do is have faith, hope and love in abundance, and these are God's gift to those who love him.
Dear Br David, when this Mass is over and this day is done, you will, like Jesus, go back to Galilee and to Nazareth, to the monastic enclosure and your cell. There, hidden from the world, you will continue to search for God in silence and humility, in prayer and in work, alone and in community. We pray that, in Jesus, you too may grow to maturity and be filled with wisdom. There can be no doubt that the favour of God is with you. We all give thanks to God for the privilege of accompanying you on your monastic journey. May I conclude with the words of St Benedict? "As you progress in this way of life and in faith, may you run on the path of God's commandments, your heart overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love. May you through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that you may deserve also to share in his kingdom." Amen.