Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ecce Ancilla Domini

We are all in a dither with preparations for Saturday... cooking, cleaning, rearranging the chapel and the furniture in all the common rooms.

Yes, I really meant to say Saturday, not Sunday, Palm Sunday. This year Palm Sunday will have to take care of itself. Certainly we will celebrate it, with the Passion liturgy from Luke, (in fact I'm playing the roles of Pontius Pilate, Peter and whoever else has a cameo part... I get to be them all.) But our focus at the moment is on the momentous occasion scheduled for Saturday. One of my sister candidates will graduate from candidateland; she will make her Life Profession.

It's a new thing for our community. She will be the first to move from the status of candidate to that of fully professed sister. We used to have a First Profession: temporary vows taken for three years. At the end of those three years the sister (supposedly) had a good sense of whether she and the community could stand each other for life.

But times are changing and this new process reflects, in part, that women being called to religious communities (specifically this community) are usually older than their counterparts of decades ago. Time is running out for those who came to serve God in this manner so late in life. Why not speed up the process a bit?

Sister will receive a "girdle cord" the rope belt with the three knots symbolizing her vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; she will get a new cross with the community's insignia; and she will receive a ring. The power of the RING is a favorite joke around here... as if that ring confers some invisible status for the woman who wears it. It doesn't. If anything, a woman taking this step and wearing this ring means she willingly gives up any power she may have had as a candidate. That includes the power to walk out, throw a tantrum, be as obnoxious as was appropriate for her secular profession. Hers is now a new profession, one of slave.

You may think that last statement is a joke too, like the power of the ring... but the ring is inscribed inside with the Latin words: Ecce Ancilla Domini. Behold the Handmaid of the Lord. Behold the bond slave of the Lord. I am the Lord's servant, His maid-servant, His bond-servant... the words Mary, in all her faith and gullibility, answered God's Angel when she was asked to ruin her reputation and have God's child out of wedlock. Those words will rub against the skin of her finger every day of her life, some kind of spiritual osmosis will occur, and she will be the Lord's servant.

Our sister is in silent retreat this entire week before she takes her vows. She may be asking herself: Am I ready for this kind of service? Can God just tap me on the shoulder and say, “Do this today”? Worse yet, can God, in the face of a sister I don't much like, tap me on the shoulder?

We say of the Mary who first spoke the words: "Blessed are you among women." But we kid ourselves if we think she got the blessing for free. She paid her dues time and time again... always the stigma of that unusual conception (after all she went back to Nazareth to live after Egypt.) Her son was initially saved at the expense of other mothers' babies... the guilt of that had to have been awful. Raising a child to be "the savior of his people" probably meant something very different to her as a naive young mother than his being executed in disgrace as a common criminal. She paid for her decision in a number of consequences.

Accepting the consequences of her decision will be our sister's next step.


Zanne said...

One things is for certain, the religious life ain't for sissies! This is one of the many reasons I love and respect you both--looking forward to your turn!

by the bay said...

Warmest blessings on the newly professed Sister!

Anonymous said...

What an incredible day it was! And the most surprising thing of all was the sense of calm peace and assuredness of what I was doing.
My step-mother asked, "Are things vastly changed now?"
"Not much," I said, "other than I can't wimp out and leave when things get tough!" :-)
But I went through a serious discernment process. There was a question I had to answer on Saturday: "Have you considered the cost this life will impose upon you as well as the joy of God's service it offers?"
I answered then and will continue to answer every day: "I have."
The joy of such a decision comes from it being something I've willinging chosen, not something that has been forced upon me.
I think I'm still a-glow. But I'm also aware from the timing of it all, profession followed by Palm Sunday followed by Holy Week and the passion of Christ, the emotional rollercoaster Jesus and his disciples experienced in the short time of one week. And I will not have to be brutally and cruelly executed by crucifixion. Jesus already did that for me. All I have to do is "pick up my cross daily" and walk WITH Jesus...a little price to pay for what I'm getting in return!
Thanks for everything you did, Sister, to make the day special for me and all the guests!
I love you, my friend.
Sr. Lilli Ana, CHS <--- :-) Look, no "c"!