February 6, 2016 – Solemn Profession at Illah

Deut. 6, 3-9; 1 Cor 1, 26-31; Mt 19, 27-29

Illah Monastery, Delta State, Nigeria





(Solemn profession of Bro. Dominic Mary MMUO and Bro. Francis Xavier UZOH)



Dear Brothers and Sisters,


          The People of Israel crossed the Desert of Egypt under the leadership of Moses.  That leadership was given by God to Moses who accepted it as a mission that always seemed too heavy for his shoulders. God was always faithful to Moses;  and Moses, even with his human fragility, was always faithful both to God and to his People – although the People was often unfaithful both to God and to Moses.  At the beginning of the Book of Deuteronomy, in a beautiful long discourse in which Moses reminds the People of all that God has done for them, and invites them never to forget God, there is a word that comes as a refrain throughout the discourse: Listen! – Listen, Israël! – Shema Israël (in Hebrew).


          We can say that this is the very first precept of the Law : to listen.


          This is the first precept of the Law, because it is the basic attitude of the human being before his Creator. We have been created by the Word of God; therefore it is in the process itself of listening that we come to existence. It is not surprising that the great theologian Karl Rahner wrote a doctoral thesis in philosophy, before writing all his wonderful books of theology.  And the title of that thesis was, in German “Hörer des Wortes”, which means “Hearer of the Word”; and what that thesis showed was that to listen to God’s Word is the very nature of a human being.


          But let us come back to Moses. What he tells the People of Israël is that, if they listen to God, they will love him with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their strength. And, if they do so, they will observe all his commandments – because to listen also means to obey. And if they obey, God will also be faithful to his promises to Abraham and his posterity, and they will grow, be happy and prosper.


          Now, today, we are here assembled in this Eucharistic celebration, to accompany two of the brothers of the Community of Illah who are going to commit themselves to God and to this Community for ever. This happens because God has called them and they have listened. God has called them when they came to life, already in their mother’s womb. He called them when they were baptized and then confirmed.  After listening to many forms of God’s call, one day they came to this monastery.


          In a Cistercian monastery like this, we live according to the Rule of saint Benedict. Benedict, in his Rule, foresees a period of initiation for the newcomer before he can be accepted within the community.  During that period, the Rule will be read three times to the candidate and each time we will tell him:  This is the Rule according to which you want to commit yourself. If you can live according to it, come, if not, you are free to go.


          Now, what is the first word of that Rule of saint Benedict? – The first word is “Listen”, just as in Moses’s talk to the People, that we had as a first reading. The whole life of the monk will consist in listening. Listening to the Word of God, first of all. The Word of God that he hears in his own heart, of course, but also the Word of God that we find in the Bible.  He will spend a large part of his life reading the Bible – Old and New Testament -- learning part of it by heart, and repeating it in his heart the whole day long.


          This will be his way of observing a most important precept of the Gospel, according to which, we should pray without ceasing. To pray without ceasing does not consist in reciting prayers all the time.  It consists in listening to the Spirit of God who prays in our hearts. It consists in being present to God’s presence in our heart and in our life.


          Sometimes we hesitate to listen because we are afraid of what we will hear. We are afraid of hearing too demanding a call... and we prefer to withdraw and loose ourselves in distractions.  It is what happened, in the Gospel, to a young man who came to see Jesus. He was a good man and was full of good intentions. He wanted to be happy and to have eternal life.  So, he comes to Jesus as tells him : “Master what should I do in order to inherit eternal life?” Jesus reminds him of the commandments of the law, which he already knows, and which he has observed since his youth.  Jesus loves him; and because he loves him, he calls him to grow more.  He calls him to something radical.  He calls him to sell everything he has, to give it to the poor and to come and follow him. This is too much for him.  He cannot, and he goes away, very sad. Then Jesus makes some remarks about how difficult it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.


          And it is at that point that Peter addresses to Jesus the question that we heard in the short Gospel text that we just read: “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?” – In his answer, Jesus reverses the order of things.  Peter had said : “We gave up everything and we followed you”. Jesus answers : “... you who have followed me...” The important thing is not what we have given up, little or much. The important thing is whether we have really chosen to follow Christ, ready to listen to him and to obey him, wherever He wants to lead us.


          Dear Brothers Mary Dominic and Francis Xavier, several years ago each one of you listened to a call from Christ, heard in your heart; you left your family and the possessions you may have had at that time, in order to follow Christ and you came to Illah. Today you want to commit yourselves for all your existence to this life of listening and obedience to God’s word in a community under a rule and a superior.  We are all here to accompany you with our prayer and to beg the Lord to give you the grace of finding a great joy and a great peace of heart in this way of life according to the Gospel.


          If such is still your desire, I invite you to come in front of Dom Ogechukwu Ibe, your legitimate Superior, in order to profess that commitment in the face of the whole people of God here present.