In a certain way, the readings this morning reflect the beauty and sacrifice that is at the heart of the consecrated life. This state of life, “deeply rooted in the example and teaching of Christ the Lord, is a gift of God the Father to his Church through the Holy Spirit.” It is a sign that the individual Christian has taken to heart those words of the psalmist which we have just sung: “In thee, O Lord, have I put my trust.” Very especially, the life of the monastery or the convent is a stable means of immersing oneself in this consecration, it is a place set aside for Christ. It is a constant recalling of the individual to the heart of the mystery of God, and a constant showing forth of that mystery to the Church and to the world. By living the gospel mandate to “carry no purse, no bag, no sandals,” religious jettison those things that encumber the rest of us, freeing them rather to possess only Christ and so also to be possessed by him alone.
To be with Christ in the cloister is to occupy a privileged place. It is to be with the bridegroom, not simply as a guest at the wedding banquet, but as the bride. It is to have in the present the intimacy recalled by the Prophet Isaiah in the First Lesson: “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (Is. 66: 13). If Christians, members incorporate in the mystical body of Christ, are heirs to the new Jerusalem—the Jerusalem above, which is our mother—how much more so are those who are consecrated, set aside for him, and who have him as their spouse (Gal. 4: 26)?
Yet as with all forms of the Christian life, there is an inherent risk that the way of life we have chosen to pursue might become an end in itself. We know all too well of those who have occupied great power and office in the Church, and yet have not lived lives worthy of the one who calls us to sanctification, and to the fulness of life. Certainly their numbers are few (thanks be to God), but these examples do demonstrate the danger that each of us faces in the temptation to create a false reality, whereby the external elements of our vocation become obstacles, even idols, that in turn restrict our access to the grace we desire and require in order to be faithful to the promises and vows we have made. To be sure, it would be perverse to see these external elements as distractions in and of themselves. When they are rightly understood, those signs of consecration and of the religious life in particular, are powerful symbols of the interior convictions held. Yet an awareness that we have the capacity to create for ourselves a fantasy whereby we externally appear to be living the gospel, and interiorly are far from Christ, is itself a sure defence against the temptation itself.
Saint Paul offers us the perfect vaccination against this deadly virus; the counterpoint to the trap of false piety and feigned religiosity. “Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” says the Apostle (Gal. 6: 14). “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” (Gal. 6: 17). Thus adherence to the way of the sacred and life-giving cross is always the true yet hidden sign of the believer, an adherence to which is known truly only to the individual and to God. The uncomfortable but glorious way that is life united to the sacrifice of the Lord, is the lynchpin to ensuring the authenticity of a person who lives in and lives for Christ. A life that does not boast in the cross as its “one reliance,” is one which is not interiorly connected with the passion and death of Christ, and thus not connected with the fruits of his resurrection.
It is this message of hope in the cross to which we must each cling in our moments of weakness, tempted by objective sin or lured into that empty existence wherein the external elements of our faith become vacuous signposts that point not to the person of Christ, but to self. In those moments the selfless and self-effacing sacrifice of the cross stands as stark reminder of the life to which we are called: one which is given so that others may have life; one which is offered so that we ourselves might be transformed and transfigured into the very life and likeness of the Godhead; one which, as we will see again in our Eucharistic oblation, is poured out for the world for its healing and balm.
May we, who come now once more to the foot of the cross, to the Calvary re-presented for us in the sacrifice of the Mass, unite ourselves once more with him, the Great High Priest of our religion, that by joining ourselves to the saving action of his life, death, and resurrection—by joining ourselves to his cross—our life may be one with him for all eternity.