HER MANY SINS ARE FORGIVEN HER FOR SHE HAS LOVED MUCH.The main character of this story would seem at first to be the unnamed woman who so boldly expressed her love for the Lord and her repentance for her sins. But in fact, the dominant figure in this narrative is the Lord Jesus. He is quietly in charge from first to last, we sense. He is able to see deeply into the hearts of the other persons spoken of in the narrative and to size them up with a sureness of judgment and a penetration of insight that give unquestioned authority to his pronouncements. We cannot doubt that he rightly sizes up his supercilious host and that his strictures upon his behavior are justly apportioned. His choice of words and his tone are eminently effective in conveying the strictures so richly deserved. But it is above all in his comments on the woman's attitude and behavior that our Lord makes such a deep impression on us as we listen to this account.
Our Lord displays a great sensitivity to the inner dispositions or this unnamed woman who showed him such respectful consideration in circumstances that placed her under considerable stress. He recognized the courage and single-mindedness required to brave the contempt of the others present, and saw clearly that she was not only repentant but was led by a deep love of him and of what he represented in her eyes. She quickly became a kind of model repentant, manifesting the qualities that the Lord approved of and sought to inculcate in all those who would be his followers.
Monks too, whose life is of set purpose a continuing conversion from sin and worldly attachments in view of ever more intimate union with the Lord, have admired this woman's faith and love and the single-minded devotedness she manifested on this occasion. And so it is quite fitting that you should chose this text, B. Isaac, to meditate as you take up the novice habit and enter upon the novitiate in our community.
The final comment the Lord pronounces regarding this display of repentance and the various tokens of honor so openly displayed by this woman signals out love as the key to interpreting her behavior. If she was able to give such moving expression to her sorrow and her respect and appreciation for the person of Jesus, it was because she had come upon a new kind of love, one based on the transcendent person whom she had come to know. The great discovery to be made concerning love is that persons as such meet one another intimately less through mutual absorption, focusing on the attractive charms of a gifted and pleasing personality, than by a communion in the same spiritual realities. To make this discovery requires a good deal of inner detachment and a purity of heart. These dispositions are the fruit of grace and, though not perfected, can suddenly arise in the human heart as a result of God's gift with a force that leads a person to determine to follow the attraction of such an insight.
The monastic way of life evolved precisely as a response to such grace. It is essentially ordered to this great work of conversion and of learning to love according to the requirements of the human heart at its deepest level. When this form of love is implanted there it begins to permeate all of the person's life, both the inner life and the behavior that follows from it. Because this is the essential purpose of monastic formation considered in its most personal, interior aspect, St. Bernard referred to the monastery as a schola charitatis, that is to say, a school where love is taught and learned.
If the whole of monastic life, then, is, a continuation of that initial conversion from sin and the world which led the monk to enter the monastery in the first place, the aim of this conversion is nothing less that a full, perfect union with the Lord Jesus through a loving knowledge of his person. There is no greater, no nobler task conceivable for any person to undertake than this of attaining to the perfection of love for the most worthy of persons.
Such is the goal set before you today as you take the novice habit and in doing so enter upon the novitiate. In earlier times this putting on of the habit was a definitive choice in life that bound the neophyte to adhere to the monastic way of life until death. But the time of St. Benedict, the novice was expected to live and study the monastic Rule for a year before making his life-long commitment. Today the period of formation has been prolonged to at least five years. But from the entry into the novitiate the candidate lives essentially same way of life followed by his brother monks who have made their final vows. Those of us who have experienced this way for many years are keenly aware of the continuity between the novitiate days and all the subsequent developments and experiences that followed. The quality of one's original dispositions tend to persist throughout life and thus the great advantage of understanding from the beginning that it is above all love of the Lord Jesus, of his Church and all its members, that is at the heart of this vocation.
To be a monk is to belong to the Lord in a fuller, more personal and intimate way that relates one more directly to his person. To become worthy of so noble a call is the task of a life time. May the graces you receive today as you take this habit set you firmly on the path that leads to the fullness of life in a loving union with the Lord Jesus. And so I ask if it is your firm purpose to enter the novitiate and to prepare yourself further for your final profession.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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