Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Final Entry Into Community

A week ago yesterday we had the funeral for Sr. Judith. It is unusual but not unique that we have a funeral and a profession so close together. In some ways it is very appropriate. A funeral is perhaps the last profession, the final and ultimate entry into community.

In the Rule, Benedict describes an entrance ceremony for novices that is overlaid with images of community. The novice makes profession in the chapel, the heart of community. During the ceremony the novice prostrates at the feet of each member asking his/her blessing. The community hears the novice sing the Suscipe, the prayer asking for God’s mercy, and the whole community sings it back in response.

Even more deeply the profession rite speaks of images of the community of the Trinity. The ceremony is replete with actions that are repeated three times as a reminder of the community of the Trinity. The novice is accepted into a monastic community that is modeled on the self-giving love of the Trinity.

A profession is a joyful and challenging reminder that we walk this way of salvation together. When we accept a new woman into community we commit to support, encourage and uphold her as we walk the Gospel path. On the part of the new sister and the community there is a realization that walking this way won’t always be easy but we will persevere even through the most difficult times.

Last Monday these same images and feelings were evoked during the services for Sr. Judith. This time we were not celebrating her entrance into monastic community but her entrance into the community of the Trinity, the final profession of hope that is the culmination of our commitment to monastic life.

The Suscipe has a profound poignancy during a funeral, even more so as we miss Judith’s amazing voice. We sing “Receive me O Lord as you have promised that I may live, and disappoint me not in my hope.” In the funeral we sing for the sister who has died, we know that she has not been disappointed in her final hope. She now lives in the hope that we all aspire to, her community is now the community of the Trinity and her promise is fulfilled.

When we go to the cemetery we lay our sister to rest in her new community, the community of those who no longer struggle with their limitations, their fears and insecurities, who are finally able to freely let go into the reality of God’s love for all of us. For those of us still in the motley crew of this human community there will still be work to do but as we leave the hill we rejoice that Judith is singing of a promise fulfilled in her new community of eternity.

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