Sermon by Mother Laura Howell
September 28, 2010
The Eve of the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels
Solemn Profession of Sr. Patricia Michael Hauze
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sister Patricia Michael, was it only yesterday that you and I sat together upstairs in the Library and you told me you were afraid that God might be calling you to the monastic life? As I recall, the words “I am afraid” were an important part of your fearful declaration. And you have often been afraid, haven’t you? Afraid you were not educated enough. Doubted that you were up to the task of being a monastic. Afraid you were too weak. Dejected because you were not worthy. But you are here today. WE are here today, too, on your behalf.
You know how poor my memory for names/dates/places is. And you know how I have a skewed sense of time—a piece of my spirit in eternity, while the rest is here. So maybe it was just yesterday that we had that conversation, not seven or eight years ago. But how many things have changed since then!
For sure I can look back in my calendar and see that you took your novice vows on May 17, 2005. The years you spent as a novice and in annual vows weren’t easy years. They were never meant to be. For a monastic, they are the years in boot camp, and in ever more advanced Ranger training. You have been learning how to maintain the laser-like focus in your center, no matter what the external environment. Sometimes illness, or pain, or clamoring parishioners distracted you. And you failed sometimes, didn’t you, and got knocked down for it? But you crawled back through the mud, avoiding most of the shells whistling overhead. You learned to recognize quickly the danger signs that your deadly enemy was near, disrupting communication from headquarters. You studied the holy policy and procedures manual that described what to do now that you had enlisted. It also gave a clear picture of the chain of command all the way to the top. You have fought on your own, in silence and solitude, and you have fought at the side of other souls. You have known a lot of our foe’s dirty tricks. And you have helped others wounded in the battle.
And here you are today. About to become a lifer. No one can suspect you of naïveté at this point. In the mysterious way that only God understands, God has called you. And you have responded, “Yes, sir,” over and over. Tonight, you respond with the ULTIMATE “Yes, sir,” and you sign your life-long enlistment papers.
It’s not merely because it was a convenient date that you chose the Eve of the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels for your Solemn Profession. Any more than it was whimsy for you to take Michael as your name in religion. You can’t fool me. I know what you are up to underneath that quiet and humble exterior. Those who have eyes to see can see it perfectly plainly. You have joined the army, and you are marching behind that banner with the big red cross. Together with a great host, you are following after Captain Michael.
As I meditated on this day and the long journey you have taken to get here, one of the stories of the Desert Fathers kept coming back to mind. Abba Agathon was giving a conference to the brothers in his monastery. They asked: "Amongst all good works, which is the virtue which requires the greatest effort?" Abba Agathon answered: "Forgive me, but I think there is no labor greater than that of prayer to God. For every time someone wants to pray, the enemies, the demons, want to prevent it. For they know that it is only by turning someone from prayer that they can hinder the journey. Whatever good work a person undertakes, with perseverance, that person will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.”
It seems to me, Sr. Patricia Michael, that you know the truth of this wise saying. While we sometimes experience the vast and inestimable blessing of consolations during our prayer, many of us experience a lot of dryness. Some of us struggle mightily with distractions, boredom, and even despair. And for some of us, being so busy that we neglect our prayer for more “useful” activities, is a serious temptation. All of us as Christians, and especially monastics, are called to prayer, but you have chosen to underline its importance by making it one of your vows. Prayer is your weapon of choice in the battle to become the kind of Christian monastic God is calling you to be. And you are about to make that special kind of prayer your job for the rest of your life.
I am not telling you anything. You are a seasoned veteran. You are a spiritual director, also, so you see our deep struggles, as well as your own. You pray for us, you pray with us, and you teach us to pray as well.
We started off this homily with your fear, didn’t we? In a few moments, you will receive the ring that you will wear till the end of your days, the symbol of your commitment to your heavenly Bridegroom. That ring is inscribed with the sacred Name that is above all names, and with the prayer that encapsulates all other prayers: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” When demon fear leaps up and tries to paralyze you, your prayer and the name of Jesus will give you courage to keep going in The Way. When demon doubt insidiously tries to undermine your faith, your prayer and the name of Jesus will remind you of God’s promises. When demon acedie—the demon of dejection and sloth-- saps all the joy and hope from your spirit, your prayer and the name of Jesus will give you the energy still to praise the Holy One. Your prayer and the name of Jesus will be both your sword and your shield, in good times and in bad.
Although you are a solitary religious sister, you are not alone. Of course you have always with you your Beloved Lord, his Blessed Mother, and St. Michael, your glorious patron and protector. But we mortals need human community as well. Your community is made up of all the members of the Diocese of Bethlehem. Just a few representatives of your wide-spread and diverse community are here tonight. You serve us all as administrator at Trinity Easton; as a spiritual director, and especially in your prayers for your bishop, the clergy and the people of the diocese. Even those of us who do not know you reap great benefit from your generous and prayerful presence among us. While you are praying for us, many of us are praying also for you in your ministry. That’s what community is meant to be.
As we begin our celebration of the Feast of St. Michael, I give thanks for you, Sr. Patricia Michael, and for all those people, known and unknown, who undertake the difficult and painful work of praying for us, when we have difficulty praying for ourselves. And I pray that our Lord will send St. Michael to guard you and protect you in your joyful labors.