During Sunday's Chapter Brother Mikah pronounced his simple vows and was clothed in the black scapular and leather belt of the professed. We rejoice with him. As the ceremony began Abbot Damian asked Brother Mikah, "What do you seek?" Mikah responded, "The mercy of God and of the Order." This brief dialogue reminded all of us that our life as monks is a life of total, loving dependence on Christ our Savior who constantly invites us to draw water in joy from the fountains of his mercy. Here are excerpts from Abbot Damian's exhortation to Brother Mikah.Saint Benedict reminds us that, “The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent.” And at the beginning of Lent, we read that Jesus went into the desert wilderness. The wilderness is not so much a geographical place or landscape. It is life - your life, my life, our lives. Life is wild. In other words, there is something untamed, uncontrollable and full of the unexpected about it.
Reflect for a moment how your life has been interrupted in unforeseen and unpredictable ways, for better or for worse. Has the future ever taken you by surprise? This is when life becomes really real. And this is what it means to enter the wilderness. It is to embrace life and reality - your life and your reality. And this is a lesson we are invited to learn over and over again, such is our “continuous Lent” as monks. The future is always coming to us in ways that we cannot foresee or plan out exactly. The future always comes to us full of promise and full of risk. There is always an open-ended dimension to it. The promise assures us that something is coming. However, we do not know exactly what it is coming. And why we do not know is that what is coming is a Who – God. Saint Augustine wrote:
For I saw in ecstasy I know not what, which I could not long endure, and being restored to my mortal estate, and the manifold thoughts of mortal things from the body which presses down the soul, I said, what? I am cast away from the sight of Your eyes. You are far above, and I am far below. What then, brethren, shall we say of God? For if you have been able to comprehend what you would say, it is not God; if you have been able to comprehend it, you have comprehended something else instead of God. If you have been able to comprehend Him as you think, by so thinking you have deceived yourself. This then is not God, if you have comprehended it; but if it be God, you have not comprehended it. How therefore would you speak of that which you cannot comprehend?
This unknowing is what makes the wilderness of life so wild and so attractive. Promise and risk are really two sides of the same coin. Every promise we make, and every promise that is made to us, contains the risk that it might not be fulfilled in the way we want or expect - except the promise of God. Because the promise of God is also its fulfillment and that promise, that fulfillment has a name, Jesus Christ. The promise of God comes to us, inviting us, but never coercing us, to a response. Inviting us to risk a response.
Maybe we could view the temptations that Jesus faced and that we face in the wilderness of life as the illusion of promise without risk - seeing a promise as a guarantee. That would be a legal, contractual relationship, but we are speaking of a love relationship. The wilderness of life is full of promise and full of risk. We cannot have one without the other.
Mikah, what is it you are truly seeking? What is it you really want? Isn’t what you really want, what you are really seeking, life, more life, abundant life? Again, Saint Benedict tells us, “Seeking his workman in the multitude of people, the Lord calls out to him and lifts his voice again: ‘Is there anyone here who yearns for life.” Mikah, in choosing to make Simple Profession, you are betting that the future will offer you more, not because it necessarily will because of some supposed guarantee but because it might offer you this more. And this might, this possibility of more life is what strengthens your faith, hope and resolve to risk the decision you are making to remain open to more life, even when you do not know how that more will turn out in detail.
Too often we look at what happened to Jesus in the desert wilderness as a sort of test to see whether he will make the right decisions, or choices or not; whether he will prove himself or not. But fundamentally, I see it as whether he will take the risk to remain open to the future, to the life that the Father has in store for him as he begins his ministry.
Mikah, I invite you to join us, your brothers in this community, in our wilderness struggle, in remaining open to God’s future for us. I do not know what that future will bring you, or me, or anyone of us. There is always that unknowing dimension. But I do know that where there is a future, there is also the possibility of life - more life. And so, I invite you now to join us in never closing out that possibility.