Abbess Marie Fahy’s Chapter Talk on Sr Beatrice’s First Profession
Sr Beatrice’s First Profession
11th July 2021 – Feast of St Benedict
Mother Marie Fahy O.C.S.O.
My dear Emma: From today on you will be called by a new name: Sr Beatrice. This is very fitting because today you take a new and decisive step in responding to the Lord’s invitation to devote your life entirely to Him, ‘to be a crown of splendour in the hand of Yahweh, a princely diadem in the hand of your God.’ You now have two patron saints accompanying you on your monastic pilgrimage: St Benedict, whose feast you chose to receive the monastic habit and make first profession and Blessed Beatrice of Nazareth, whose name you take. These two saints will pray for you, love you and inspire you. There is much to learn from both of them and you have access to at least one document from each: the Rule of St. Benedict and the Seven Modes of Love.
Life according to the Rule of St. Benedict is a truly contemplative life. You told me that one of your favourite Scripture passages is Ephesians 4: ‘…the saints together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ. In this way we are all to come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God, until we become the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself.’ The R.B. will guide you on this monastic pilgrimage to a deeper understanding of who Christ is, who you are, and how you can become one with Christ in thought, heart, will and spirit. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in you to unite you to Christ but the RB is very practical and can mirror for you how to be conformed to Christ and to his values. You have chosen some of the tools of good works, very practical virtues to guide your choices and behaviour each day.
Beatrice of Nazareth is a great role model for you because of the energy, keenness and commitment with which she sought God/Love in her life. About 100 years after Bernard, groups of women in the Low Countries, especially Belgium and Holland, took the early Cistercian writers and really tried to live and embody the spirituality. They were women of deep prayer who kept the enthusiasm of the Cistercian reform alive long after the monks had grown slack! Beatrice of Nazareth seems to have written several treatises on aspects of monastic life but mostly they were destroyed after her death to avoid the scrutiny of the Inquisition. By good fortune, however, one text survived, her treatise on the Seven Modes of Love, written in Dutch and edited only in 1926.
Beatrice describes the spiritual path as a dynamic, experiential movement towards Love. The initiative comes from God, from Love, and not from ourselves. She describes the dynamic between Love and the soul; how God draws us and she sees Love as the true source of joy. Beatrice developed a reputation as a mystic and holy woman. She was novice director, teacher, and then prioress for 30 years in the Nazareth monastery (Belgium). I hope you will become very familiar with her brief mystical treatise, The Seven Modes of Love, a text about contemplative experience and affirms that life with God is the climate of our being, as much as the sky is to the bird or the sea to the fish. M. Casey: ‘she achieved a certain fusion of horizons between the spiritual doctrine of the great Cistercian authors of the 12th century such as Bernard of Clairvaux and the mystical climate prevailing in her own native land…. Beatrice shares the ontological optimism of the Cistercian school: her vision of the spiritual life is dominated by the idea that communion with God is principally manifested by growth in singleness of heart, freedom and in the nobility for which the Creator intended us.’ Beatrice’s notion of the spiritual journey is very energetic; seeking God is no listless, half-hearted endeavour. I pray that her experience will help you to value your own experience so that you ‘work with strength and skill’ in responding to Love’s call to you.
Congratulations, Beatrice, on having completed your novitiate. You persevered in spite of the challenges of this time and this will stand to you for the future. I am very aware that God is affirming us as a monastic community because of the choice you make today; and God is affirming you in your Cistercian vocation, by our choice of welcoming you as a professed member in our community. Your choice to make vows of obedience, conversion of life and stability, is a clear sign of your conviction that Christ has invited you to leave everything and follow him. Our choice to receive these vows is a clear sign of our conviction that monastic life in Glencairn will give you the right environment in which to follow Christ, and grow in holiness of life. And the greatest gift that you and we can offer the church and the world today is holiness of life, a holiness that consists in our transformation into Christ.
Some years back you were baptised into Christ, you were grafted on to him and became part of his Body, and His Spirit was clothed by your spirit. Today you are reaffirming and deepening that baptismal grace and commitment by a further step in taking vows that will enable you to be more fully identified with Christ. He was obedient to the Father, even unto death; you will seek to surrender in obedience, freely and with love – yielding your will to the will of God through yielding to another and others, in mutual obedience. Even when obedience is costly and difficult, God’s grace and strength will be with you.
Christ, though tempted in every way that we are, never acted in a sinful way. You will with God’s grace, slowly and gradually through ongoing conversion and repentance bring all of your life, your choices, your activities, your heart, to do good, to act with kindness, humility, loving with a chaste love, and so bear spiritual fruit in the church. This will mean dashing evil and negative thoughts against Christ, your Rock, and growing in purity of heart. Christ endured to the end, was faithful to the end, you too, with God’s help and our support, will persevere within the stability of this monastic community, where you can trust that you will be loved and challenged, transformed and purified. Your commitment to stability will bring you to a simple life: the quest for God and His kingdom.
Pope Francis: “The old saying will always be true: “Where there are religious, there is joy”. We are called to know and show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness; that we need not seek our happiness elsewhere; that the authentic fraternity found in our communities increases our joy; and that our total self-giving in service to the Church… brings us life-long personal fulfilment.” The community exists for the glory of God but God is not glorified unless we as individual members of the community bring forth spiritual fruit – the fruit of holiness of life.
It is your own special personal relationship with the Lord Jesus which will make your daily living meaningful and bearable! It is this intimacy with Christ which gives energy, vitality and joy to our singing, our service and our relating. Going out of ourselves at unexpected moments to help or serve another is the real challenge. Your life is a life of prayer and service in the church, interceding for people, offering your small sufferings and inconveniences for the needs of others, and using your many gifts and talents in the service of the community. My prayer is that you will be led always by God’s Spirit. That Spirit “reaches the depths of everything even the depths of God” “you can grasp the breadth and length, the height and depth of the love of Christ”.