Final Vows in East Africa: A community of single-heartedness

2011 First Vows, District of East Africa

This past Saturday the United States Province of Priests and Brothers celebrated the first profession of six Holy Cross novices from the Holy Cross Novitiate in Cascade, Colo. Today, on another continent, we celebrated the final profession of five of our religious from the District of East Africa. With the Rev. David T. Tyson presiding, Changwe Constantine, C.S.C., Macharia Timothy, C.S.C., Mbusa Vicent, C.S.C., Muhindo Luke, C.S.C., and Tumwine Patrick, C.S.C., professed forever the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience according to the Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross.

In a Spes Unica blog exclusive, we share with you today the homily given by Fr. Tyson at the Mass. While we will have the pictures of the event soon, the pictures included in this post come from the first profession in East Africa that took place a couple of weeks ago. Join us in praying for these young men who have hope to bring to our Church and world.

Dear family and friends of these five men, and my brothers and sisters in Holy Cross. Today, we gather in community to witness these men binding their lives to Our Lord Jesus Christ forever in their perpetual profession of vows. They do so in the context of the Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross. And thus, they also bind themselves to their brothers in Holy Cross by declaring that they will walk side by side with us as disciples of the mission by proclaiming the kingdom of God in the world together forever. They make a life pledge to hold all things in common, to forgo conjugal love, and to hear God’s will in light of the common good of the Community, so as to not only secure their salvation but be to beacons of hope, thus showing all people the way to that salvation. These men are not new to religious life. They know that it is a gift from God, sustained by His grace, and yet, at the same time, they know it is the door to their bearing that very Cross that we call our hope.

The readings that they chose for today’s profession liturgy are vivid illustrations of those characteristics that are so critical to a life that is faith-filled, grace-filled, and marked by fidelity.

Our first reading is from the Book of Genesis. It is the story of the call of Abram by God. It is a call in which God promises Abram his protection and blessing. He promises him a nation of people that will be larger than the stars in the skies, and more numerous than the sands on the sea shore. He promises everything that Abram could possibly want or need, and he asks for just one thing – and that is fidelity to his word and will. And thus, the first covenant was created between God and his chosen people. These men are sons of Abram but most importantly they are sons of the New Covenant. That covenant between God and his chosen people that was sealed for all eternity by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is in this new Covenant that our God defeats sin and death and asks us for our fidelity to His word and to His mission. All of us proclaim this in our baptisms. But these five religious renewed the promises of their baptism in a very intentional way when they first professed their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as religious of Holy Cross in 2006. On this day, they again proclaim these vows but this time they will do so forever. Like Abram, they have heard the call of their God to follow him in faith and hope to be beacons to his people, and to build up His kingdom.

The second reading these men chose for our Mass today is from the Acts of the Apostles which is basically the story of the Apostles and the community of the post-resurrection Church. We hear in this book of the scriptures of events that range from the process for choosing the successor of Judas Iscariot as an Apostle, to the Council of Jerusalem, where agreement was reached that the message of Christ was a universal message, not one bound by the laws of Judaism alone, but fulfilled by Christ’s blood for Jews, Gentiles, and all people for all time who chose to follow him. This great account of the early Church ends with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within them at the first Pentecost. This fulfillment of the promise of Jesus that he would send the Spirit among them is the same promise and same Spirit that guides and sustains the Church today.

The specific passage we hear today describes the characteristics of that early Church. They were drawn together in community through the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist, that promise Jesus made to be present to us until the end of time. They were committed to hold all things in common for the benefit of all. The acted steadfastly with one accord, and thus were able in faith and prayer to do many works for the glory of God.

By their professions today, these men vow to be single-hearted for the rest of their lives as prayerful, celibate, disciples of Christ, and to do so by stripping themselves of any individualism and autonomy that would distract them from a single-heartedness with their brothers to hold all things in common, and to act for the benefit of all for the sake of the mission. Our Constitutions call each of us in Holy Cross, whether in temporary vows or final vows, to this single-heartedness. It is our vows that bind us together as a community of “single-heartedness”!

Finally, the Gospel reading for our liturgy today from Matthew, chapter16, reminds us that the challenges that Jesus presented to disciples during his public ministry are the same challenges that are presented to all baptized Christians today, and especially all religious, and very especially all of us in Holy Cross who proclaim that Cross as an instrument of hope instead of death!

2011 First Vows, District of East Africa

When Jesus tells us that we are to deny ourselves, he is not just suggesting that we
fulfill this command in great moments of sacrifice, or in symbolic times such as Lent. Luke’s account says it more clearly. We are to deny ourselves daily. We are basically commanded to develop a total attitude, and complete stance in life, for which we put ourselves second to the needs of others, especially those most in need. In addition, we are to consider our needs and desires as subservient to those of the whole community in its effort to serve the mission of the Gospel. This is not a negotiable command of Jesus; it is a requirement for those who claim discipleship with Him.

In addition to denying ourselves, Jesus Christ tells us that we are to pick up our Cross, and we are to follow him. Jesus gave the ultimate gift of salvation to us by bearing his cross, and lifted upon on that Cross, he brought with him the sins of the world, and, thus, he transformed the Cross of death to be an instrument of hope and life for all who believe in him. And if we truly believe in him, we too pick up our cross to follow him in obedience to his will for us. As Holy Cross religious we acknowledge the Cross of Christ as our only Hope in the profession of our vows. It is through our vows that we make the claim that we are “men with hope to bring” to all, and especially to all, who suffer. It is a hope radiated from the Cross itself that can transform any trial or tribulation into a gift from the God who loves us.
Finally, Jesus asks the question: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and, yet, loses his life?” This question is poignant for all Christians. If we live according to the values of the world, we choose not to live by the way of the “Cross of Hope”. Thus, when the risen Lord comes to judge us at the end of time, we will find that what we gained in the world is gone, and that we gain nothing in eternity because we were unfaithful to our promise of discipleship. For those of us who are religious this question is even more poignant because by our vows, we pledge not only to live according to our baptismal promises, but by the sacred vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. We choose to live in radical way in an alienated world. The Lord loves us for this commitment to Him and His mission. And he is there to sustain us with his grace if we engage him in a life of prayer and apostolic work in community. And at the end he will judge us by these things – by that which we ourselves freely once promised to Him.

Patrick, Constantine, Luke, Timothy, Vicent: In a moment you will come forward to profess your final vows to God in the presence of all who are gathered here. It is a time of joy. It is a time of solemnity. It is a time of serious purpose.

What you are about to do here is not a career choice. It is not a memorandum of understanding between you and the Lord. It is not phase in your lives. It is the culmination of your hearing, listening, and discerning – that it is God who called you to a life of discipleship, which is not a career but a way of life, it’s a vocation, whatever your ministry or “career” might be. Never succumb to the allure of those things that give status in the world such as wealth or power. If you do, in time, you assuredly will experience a deep and devastating emptiness, since you will have lost sight of whom you are as Christ’s disciple as Holy Cross religious.

2011 First Vows, District of East Africa

The Congregation is blessed this day. The East African Church is blessed this day. The Church Universal is blessed this day. For you come forward to give us witness with your life commitment and your dedication. As you cast your lot with us forever, throw yourselves into it forever. Let your ministry be enriched by your prayer. Let your prayer be your source of zeal for the ministry. Let all of this be strengthened by our charism of doing it together. It is our life, our prayer, and our work together in community, which makes us who we are, and gives us the courage to be daring in our apostolic zeal. For our part as your brothers, we pledge to support you, to challenge, you, and most of all to love you as our brothers who journey with us in the footsteps of those who have gone before us.

May God Bless You, now and forever. AMEN.

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