Presentation of Our Lord 2017
Solemn Profession of Dom Dunstan Nelson
Forty days after his birth at Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph came to the Temple in Jerusalem to be purified and to present the child Jesus, their first-born, for God’s service. This traditional Jewish rite also involved the offering of a small sacrifice, “a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons,” Essentially, they were giving thanks to God for the birth and good health of their son and the survival of his mother. Even today, childbirth is the most danger thing a woman has to go through in life. This rite of purification and presentation was always a joyful occasion, a day of hope and thanksgiving. Yet, as we heard in the Gospel, after the blessing came a warning for Mary, when Simeon said to her, “This child is destined to be a sign that is rejected, and a sword will pierce your own heart too.” There would be many sacrifices ahead, culminating with the sacrifice of Calvary, when Jesus would offer his own life and shed his blood for the redemption of sinners.
Today is the last of the Christmas feasts, each one of them a theophany, an encounter with the living God in the person of Jesus Christ, God incarnate, Emmanuel, God who is with us. At his Nativity, the angels in heaven and the shepherds on earth rejoice at the birth of the Saviour, the child in the manger. At his Epiphany, the gentiles, represented by the wise men, follow a star and kneel to worship the infant King, whom they recognise to be both God and Redeemer. At his Baptism, John the Baptist sees and hears the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as Jesus emerges from the waters. At the Wedding Feast of Cana, at his Mother’s behest, Jesus transforms water into wine, as at the Last Supper bread and wine will become his Body and Blood and on the Cross blood and water will flow from his side as the Church, his mystical Body, comes into being through the Sacraments. Today, on this loveliest of feasts, Simeon and Anna, inspired by the Holy Spirit, see in the child presented in the Temple “the Christ of the Lord.” This is the final theophany of the Christmas story, when two prophetic figures, a man and a woman, bless God and say, “My eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel.”
Dear Br Dunstan, this is where you come into the story, for the Gospel is not a history book that recounts past events, but the living word of God which is being written today in the lives of Christians, who live through faith in Jesus Christ. What happened on that day in the Temple at Jerusalem is taking place before our very eyes today. You have been called by God to present yourself to him in this temple and dedicate your entire life to him, searching for him in prayer and living according to his commandments in the monastic life as a living sacrifice of praise. As Simeon took Jesus in his arms and thanked God for fulfilling his promise of salvation, so the Belmont Community takes you in its arms through a covenant of love and promises to accompany you in your lifelong journey of faith as our brother and friend. You will take the same vows as we have taken and you will join the ranks of your brethren as a monk of Belmont. No doubt your parents, who in a mysterious way known only to God bear some responsibility for your vocation, are feeling like Mary and Joseph, joyful yet bewildered. They will know what Simeon means when he says, “a sword will pierce your own heart.” Let me assure them that they are not loosing a son but gaining a community and they will enjoy the fruits of your vocation as, each day, you pray for them and the rest of your family.
The vows speak for themselves, as does the Rite of Solemn Profession. You enter into the tomb with Christ, so as to rise with him to new life. By the vow of Conversatio Morum, you will promise to die each day to sin and self and to live out in your own flesh the sacrifice of the Cross, for your own salvation and for the salvation of the world. By Obedience, you promise to do God’s will in all things, realising that his will is revealed in the voice of the abbot and community, in the Magisterium of the Church and in your own conscience. By Stability, you promise to remain rooted in the heart of God through fidelity to this particular monastic family, the Rule of St Benedict and a life of contemplative prayer
Dear Br Dunstan, may you be blessed today as you as you proclaim your vows before the altar of God. Through the intercession of Our Lady and St Dunstan, may God our Father take you to himself and unite you to his Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.