With his hand on the altar ... the novice himself begins the verse: 'Receive me, Lord, as you have promised, and I shall live, do not disappoint me in my hope.'
Rule of St. Benedict 58:21
A couple weeks ago, we celebrated the solemn profession of four of our confreres. Joined by family and friends, the monastic community relished this awesome experience of final dedication to God, signified and sealed in the mystical rites through which they joined their self-oblation to that of Christ's own redemptive sacrifice in a commitment to the dying and rising that monastic life, as a whole, is intended to effect in us.
The formula for monks making their solemn profession is a quotation from the 118th psalm, verse 116 - "Receive me (or 'uphold me'), Lord, as you have promised, and I shall live; do not disappoint me in my hope," or as we render it here at Saint Meinrad, in my expectations.
It seems strange to me that we often pray as if God could disappoint us somehow by not living up to who God has claimed himself to be. Jesus Christ, which our Church teaches is the definitive revelation of God, has shown us that God is love - not just that God loves, but that God's very substance, God's verybeing, is Love.
Love is kind, merciful, generous, and receptive (hospitable), always eager to receive others as they are, flawed as we may be, and that God loves us though we are sinful (see 1 Cor 13 and Rom 5:8). None of us is without sin, but God loves us with infinite generosity because that's the only way God can love - with the whole of who God is - as revealed and demonstrated by Jesus Christ.
We are received by God because God is love, and love lifts up, holds up and supports, as a father or mother accepts and holds up a beloved child. But as we know, this image can limp because even human parents will fail at times to fully understand their children - but God cannot fail to understand us because God became one of us.
God receives us as we are - as enough - and the first "evidence" of that fact is our very existence itself, for nothing exists apart from God and God loves all that He made (John 1:3; Wis 11:24).
Since God's love is the foundation of our being, why do we strive so hard to prove ourselves as worthy of love and acceptance, or to justify our existence to one another when we don't even need to justify or prove ourselves to God? Monastic life is not a striving to prove anything, but to witness to God's love made manifest in Christ and the promise of eternal life.
What we ask for in our prayer is answered by God's providence as opportunities for trusting God's promise to be with us, and to provide whatever God knows we need in the midst of whatever situation we find ourselves. Our prayer is answered by God as a call to faith in God's Word - I shall be with you - a Word that perfectly reflects who God is.
The monk who makes a solemn, lifelong vow to the monastic way of life - to be stable and obedient, to listen carefully and receive God's Word - is one who must trust by faith that God is true to his Word, that God's promise is trustworthy.
The monastic life begins with an act of faith and ends as the fruit of the Spirit who loves us by being within us all that we need, every step along the way. So the monk expects that no matter how daunting things may get, whatever is needed to thrive will be ready-at-hand.
This is the expectation, by faith, we have the right to hold: that we shall through patience, share in the sufferings of Christ that we may also deserve to share in his Kingdom. (RB Prol. 50).