First Professions: Speak Lord, Your Servant is Listening

First Profession of Vows

This morning at Sacred Heart Parish in Colorado Springs, Colo., six Holy Cross novices from the United States Province of Priests and Brothers made their first profession of religious vows. Matthew Fase, C.S.C., Timothy Mouton, C.S.C., Stephen Pepper, C.S.C., Daniel Ponisciak, C.S.C., Christopher Rehagen, C.S.C., and Anthony Stachowski, C.S.C., made their vows to Rev. David T. Tyson, C.S.C., the Provincial Superior of the United States Province. They were joined by David Halm, C.S.C., who professed vows as part of his re-admittance into the community. To see more pictures of the First Profession Mass, check out the photo album we just posted on our Holy Cross Vocations Facebook fan page.

The homily at the Mass was preached by Rev. Kevin Russeau, C.S.C., who spoke powerfully of the vows being an imitation of Jesus — one that we are formed and strengthened for by our families, both our birth families and our Holy Cross family. Here is the text of his masterful homily:

Some of you may know that this was my first year as novice master. Like any of you who begins new responsibilities I came into the year with ideas of what we might work toward; lists of tasks that I needed to get done; scores of helpful hints that others gave to me; and I also had ideas of what not to do and what not to say. I made a promise to myself that I would avoid, as best I could using the phrase: “Well, when I was a novice…!” I wanted to avoid this phrase because I have been there when others have used it – eyes glaze over – or eyes roll – or people leave the room!

I suppose it’s because it usually implies that things have changed – and often when it’s used it is implied that things were much more difficult back in the good ol’ days! The truth of the matter is that things have changed at the novitiate – things are different now than when we arrived in Colorado in 1977 or when Fr. So and So was novice master or when the novitiate was in Vermont or Minnesota. And while it’s true that schedules, leadership, and locations have always changed – it is also true that the novitiate continues to do the same thing it was designed to do – to foster a relationship with Jesus – and to help young men discern their vocation.

You can ask the novices later if I was successful in my personal promise, but I think for the most part I was – until this moment! I almost can’t help it this morning! When I was a novice, this week of profession, was a particularly important week for me. I remember the excitement that the end of the year brought – the anxiety of what religious life was going to demand of me – my joy in beginning this new relationship with Holy Cross with my family gathered here at mass. Seeing and visiting with the families of Matt, Dave, Tim, Chase, Dan, Chris, and Anthony reminds me of when I was a novice welcoming my own family.

The soon to be professed line up in cassocks before mass

Families, after all, are so important to the development of a vocation in the Church. My parents were my first teachers in the faith. They taught me how to pray the Lord’s prayer, the Hail Mary, and other Catholic prayers; they taught me discipline in taking us to mass every week – no matter what our plans might have been; they taught me about the lives of the saints and encouraged me to see them as role models and to talk with them and Jesus in my own words; when I talked with my parents about feeling a call to religious life and the priesthood, they brought me to the seminary and supported my application.

Without my parents, I would not have been able to profess vows like these men will do in just a few short minutes – and my story is similar to their stories – parents, family, friends, teachers, and mentors are important to the development of a vocation in the Church.

The story of Eli and Samuel, read this morning, is a beautiful one chosen by the novices. Here we read about a young Samuel who hears the call from God but thinks it is his master Eli calling him so he responds to Eli “here I am.” The story develops as Eli, the mentor, eventually counsels Samuel that it must be the Lord calling – and the proper response to a call from the Lord is simply: “speak Lord, your servant is listening…

Fr Kevin Russeau, CSC preaches at mass

Samuel of course, goes on to be a great prophet. He guides the people of Israel and mentors them so that they too might have a relationship with God. But before Samuel was leading people, before he was training with Eli, Samuel was being loved by his parents. What we sometimes forget about Samuel is that before he was born, Samuel’s mother, Hannah, was deep in prayer. Hannah was barren and longed for a son – she pleaded with God. Hannah promised that If God would grant her a child, she would dedicate him to God. God was faithful to Hannah and Hannah was faithful to God. Hannah gave her only son to Eli so that Samuel could be of service to the Lord. Parents are important to the development of a vocation in the Church.

The novices chose the story of Samuel’s calling, because it reminds them of their own calling. Each of these men heard a calling from God. Our Constitutions describe this calling in these words: “Come, Follow me.” It was the Lord Jesus calling us. We were already His, for we bore the name of Christians. We had already been initiated into His church. We had been washed in baptism and confirmed in our belief and given the Eucharistic nourishment in memory of Him. But there seemed to come a time when the Lord was calling us to take some further step.

I think this Constitution is very important for the novices and for us – because it recognizes that God’s call is not directed only to them – or even to us as religious. In baptism, the sacrament of initiation which makes us God’s children – in baptism we are all called – each of us are called to be holy. You and I, by our baptism, are each called to live our lives mindful of God, dedicated to God, and in communion with God and one another.

What the Novitiate does then is structures prayer and silence; labor and community; ministry and formation so that the novice might come to hear his call more clearly. The novitiate seeks to answer the question: Is God calling me to profess poverty, chastity, and obedience? Am I called to profess these Evangelical Counsels in the Congregation of Holy Cross?

One of the more moving periods of this past year for me was to listen to the presentations that each of these men made to our community about the vows. Each of them traced poverty, chastity and obedience in a particular gospel – and they shared how they have come to understand the vows in their own lives. With poetry, music, stories, and explanation, each of these men demonstrated to Fr. Don and I that they would profess vows with some understanding, some lived experience, and with humility for they know that God’s grace is needed to be faithful to our vocation.

Fr Kevin Russeau, CSC gives the Newly Professed the cape for their habits

While I could talk about each of these vows at length, I would instead encourage family members to talk with the novices about them. Perhaps like many people, your view of the vows are sacrificial – you know that by professing these vows the novices are choosing to give up some power, wealth, and pleasure. There certainly is a sacrificial dimension to these vows – I suspect that is why our second reading, about the cross of Jesus, was chosen. There will be sacrificing in living the vows just as there is sacrifice in all vocations – we only need to think about what our parents did for us to remember that religious life does not have a monopoly on sacrificial love.

But at the heart of the vows – what your sons, grandsons, brothers, nephews, or friends will tell you if you about the vows if ask them – is what our constitutions reminds us is: “[the vows] are an act of love for the God who first loved us. By our vows we are committed to single-hearted intimacy with God, to trusting dependence upon God and to willing surrender to God. We wish thus to live in the image of Jesus, who was sent in love to announce God’s rule and who beckons to us to follow him.

They profess these vows as a response of love to Jesus who first loves them – and these vows are meant to be an imitation of Jesus who was also poor, chaste, and obedient.

This year of novitiate has been a year to discover Jesus. Jesus who is our model of holiness; Jesus who lived a life: poor, chaste, and obedient; Jesus who has called these young men; Jesus who will nourish them and protect them; Jesus who will continue to love them and Jesus who delights in the love that they express this morning in professing these vows and in the love and joy they are called to express in their fidelity to the vows.

Come follow me, it was the Lord Jesus calling.” The family and friends of Chase, Dan, Anthony, Tim, Chris, Matt and Dave have been important to the development of Jesus’ call. Today the family of Holy Cross – founded by Blessed Basil Moreau – also pledges its support to each one of these men. This is what our Spiritual father, Fr. Moreau had to say to his religious: What must we do to become perfect? Follow Jesus Christ, that is to say, imitate him; that is the commitment we made in baptism…following Jesus is the consequence of this sacrament of faith; it is the holy and irrevocable law of our vocation to Christianity, and we renew it by our religious promises. In what does this imitation of Jesus Christ consist? He himself told us that it is reduced to three things: renouncing ourselves, taking up our cross, and walking in his footsteps. Families are important to the development of a vocation in the Church. Together, these two families celebrate and witness the same response that Eli offered to Samuel – as the novices publically declare this morning: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.

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