Fr. Francesco Podda, O. de M., Provincial Secretary, received the vows of Brothers James and Scott. This is the homily he gave during the Mass.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today we celebrate together two men whom the Church has always viewed as her columns: St. Peter and St. Paul. Christ chose both of them, even though in different ways, to follow him and be committed to the duty to continue his mission of preaching the Gospel of salvation and the forgiveness of the sins in his name.
This feast allows us to reflect on the mystery of vocation. Who were these men? Were they special or better than the others? Did Jesus have any human reason for choosing them?
If we read the Gospel we discover that the only reason of their calling is the mysterious and gratuitous will of the Father, who shows his strength through human weakness, as St. Paul will later write of reflecting on his own vocation.
In fact Peter was a simple fisherman, son of a fisherman, generous, impulsive, sometimes overconfident, and at the same time fearful until disowning Christ. But he was also humble, conscious of his sin and capable to weep bitterly for having betrayed his Lord.
Paul was a scribe lover and slave of the law, who was present at the martyrdom of St. Steven, the first martyr of the Church. He was going to Damascus to seek and kill the Christians when Jesus called Paul in a mysterious way, made him an apostle and sent him to announce the Gospel to the gentiles.
Both of them gave their lives for the Gospel and for remained faithful to Jesus. Both of them were martyred in Rome. They were so different and yet united by the same vocation to follow the Lord so closely and worthy to receive the same destiny of their Master Jesus Christ.
This feast is a favorable opportunity to reflect on one’s vocation, most of all because today two other men are going to confirm their wish to follow Christ forever. The profession of solemn vows is the definitive yes that Br. James and Br. Scott give to the divine call they have heard and followed with faith and trust in Jesus.
They are going to proclaim before the Church, represented by this liturgical assembly, their resolute intention to follow Christ as religious and as mercedarians.
What does it mean to be religious and to be mercedarian?
First of all we should remember the source of the vocation. Jesus reminded his disciples that they did not choose him, but He chose them. These brothers are here because they heard the voice of Christ calling them to follow him in this particular way, as religious. Nobody should think that to be a religious or a priest is a simple human project. The vocation to the religious life or to the priesthood is a gift of the Lord, and the one who is called can only accept this gift and answer “yes” as the Virgin Mary did, but nobody can presume to be a religious or a priest if not called by Jesus.
The main purpose of the religious life is to be a sign of the presence of Christ among men and to help them to meet him. In particular the religious life is to make visible the way of life Jesus adopted when he lived as a man in this world.
This is the significance of the vows. They are not the sacrifice of the good things of life, such as getting married, to having and using property or possessions, or realizing personal project.
The religious vows should be a clear sign of the way of life of Christ, who didn’t get married, so to be free to love God and mankind until giving up his life for them. He did not have a place to rest his head, so to remind us of God’s love, who nourishes the birds of the sky and takes care of every creature. He didn’t have any personal project, but his food was to accomplish the will of the Father.
We are religious not to pursue a personal perfection, but to be a sign of the heavenly kingdom for all of God’s people as the Second Vatican Council reminds us: “The profession of the evangelical counsels … appears as a sign which can and ought to attract all the members of the Church to an effective and prompt fulfillment of the duties of their Christian vocation. The people of God have no lasting city here below, but look forward to one that is to come”.
All the religious make the three vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, but we as mercedarian have also another vow that we call the fourth vow, and I believe it is the first and the most important, because it affects also the particular way by which we live the other vows.
This fourth vow is the vow of redemption that expresses our specific charism. Our father and founder St. Peter Nolasco, inspired by the Virgin Mary of Mercy founded our Order for visiting and freeing those Christians who were in captivity and in the power of the enemies of Jesus Christ, and as in the first Consitutions of the Order, St. Peter Nolasco established that all the brothers of the Order, as sons of true obedience, must always be gladly disposed to give up their lives, if it necessary, as Jesus gave up his life for us.
We the mercedarians still consecrate ourselves to God by this special vow, by virtue of which we promise to give up our lives, as Christ gave his life for us, in order to save those Christians who find themselves in extreme danger of losing their faith by new forms of captivity.
Only if we are free, we may be ready to free our brothers and sisters, at the cost of our life, and the other three vows we profess help us to be always free and ready to give up our life.
This is what Br. James and Br. Scott are doing with the profession of solemn vows. We can imagine how difficult the mission could be, because, like Peter and Paul, and like each of us who have made this profession before them, they are simple men whom the mysterious and gratuitous will of the Father called to surrender their lives into his hands, so to become instruments of salvation, to bring freedom to those who are enslaved by the evil one.
Today we accompany them with our prayer, asking for them the same generosity that brought St. Peter and St. Paul to give up their lives for Christ.
Dear James and Scott, may God who began this good work in you, by the intercession of St. Peter Nolasco, and with the maternal protection of our Most Holy Mother of Mercy bring it to fulfillment.