Religious Profession, Feast of Our Lady of the Angels, 2008
Bishop Robert J. Baker
The Religious Profession of Brother Luke and Brother Paschal
Feast of Our Lady of the Angels, 2 August 2008
Homily by the Most Reverend Robert J. Baker,
Bishop of the Diocese of Birmingham
The feast of our Lady of the Angels of the Portiuncula is a uniquely Franciscan feast. Anyone who knows the story of St. Francis knows the relation of St. Francis to the Portiuncula Church within the larger "Our Lady of the Angels" Church in the valley below Assisi. St. Francis was welcomed by the Benedictine community to use this church in the early days of his community. It has a special role in the Franciscan story....
The little church, referred to as the "Portiuncula," the "little portion" in English, is inside a bigger church today, Our Lady of the Angels Church. St. Francis had the friars bring him back to the location of the Portiuncula Church before his death, as it was a very special and sacred place for him. Assisi is one of my favorite places on earth, and I have made many a pilgrimage there, and many a visit when I was a graduate student in Rome in the early '70's. Many times I have visited the unique and special Our Lady of the Angels Church and the Portiuncula Church inside it.
Today Brother Luke and Brother Paschal make their first profession of vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, in the pattern of St. Francis, on this special feast. And we congratulate them and commend them on this public witness of faith they are making, in the presence of their Bishop and the Guardian of their community, the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word. The Guardian is Father Anthony Mary Stelton.
Brother Luke Mary Braum hails from South Africa. You can detect a tinge of his South African English accent in his speech when he reads at Holy Mass. We envy his clear and precise diction. You will never miss any of his words when he reads or speaks. Brother Paschal Mary Yohe comes from near my hometown in Ohio. He is from Toledo, Ohio. Both of them completed their novitiate and will be making their first profession of vows. At the end of Mass Jason Bartow will be formally received into the novitiate, following his time of postulancy.
We thank them for their faithfulness in assisting at liturgies for EWTN Masses and for all their help behind the scenes at the EWTN studios. Their efforts make them missionaries of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As their Bishop I commend their community of priests and brothers for all they do in service to the Lord and His kingdom. They represent a vital part of the new evangelization proclaimed by our recent Popes, helping to use the media to draw people closer to Christ.
They also reflect the deep faith, courage, and generosity of our young people who are stepping forth to give their lives totally to the Lord.
The vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience are an acknowledgement that the kingdom of Christ is more visibly and tangibly present in the world of today through them. They remind us that God owns everything we are and everything we have and that we are simply the stewards of the lives and the resources God has given to us.
The vow of poverty is a simple acknowledgement that all material things belong not to ourselves, but to God, and so these men hold no title to anything. They are telling the rest of us in a clear way that none of us own anything — it all belongs to God. What we have is a gift to be used for His greater honor and glory.
The vow of chastity is their profession of God's ownership in love of their minds, their bodies, their spirits. God is all they need to be happy. Of course, in eternity none of us will marry or be given in marriage. So their celibate commitment reminds us of that fact. But all of us are called to a chaste life, a way of loving that reminds us that love is defined ultimately by God, and we can never steer away from God and discover the true meaning of love. God is the author of love and of life. Chaste loving is loving sacrificially and generously, as God has loved us.
Obedience is their witness to the fact that God's holy will should predominate in all decisions of our lives. We do not own our lives. God does. Our community leaders, acting in God's place, help direct us on the pathway to God. We give deference to them to maintain unity in truth and love in our communities, and to understand God's holy will for us. Once again we acknowledge God's ownership of our destinies in life.
While the commitments of these men today may seem extraordinary or out of sinc with the rest of us, I'd like to suggest that in many ways God calls all committed Christians to a similar stewardship way of life.
When I celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation with teen-agers, I remind them that God is calling them through this Sacrament, and through the power of the Holy Spirit coming to them, to offer their lives 100% in service to the Lord. All they are and all they have belong to Him. So why not give it all back to Him.
Hold back nothing in serving God, and He will give you everything in return.
Remember the words of the priest at the Easter Vigil ceremony. As he's lighting the Easter candle. Christ, yesterday and today, the alpha and the omega. All time belongs to Him, and all the ages. To Him be power and glory through the ages, forever and ever. Amen.
All time belongs to Him. I remind the confirmands of that fact. But does all my time belong to Him, all my talents, all my treasures? Hopefully, yes. Hopefully I give it all to him. I don't wait till I'm on my death bed to give God everything,
These young men are doing that today. They are giving God everything, because they realize He already owns everything they are and everything they have.
Their profession today is a prayer commitment to Him, an acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as the center of their lives and the source of their love for Him and everyone else.
Can all of us participating today enter into the drama of their day and their profession by making our own commitment today to serve God 100%, holding back nothing in our commitment to Him?
That is another name for Christian stewardship, another name for total conversion of mind and heart to God, another name for holiness of life. Not just Brother Luke Mary, Brother Paschal Mary, and Brother Jason are called to serve the Lord 100%. In whatever vocation of life we are in, the single life, the married life, the consecrated life, the diaconate or priesthood. We are all called to live totally for Christ.
In this year of St. Paul we are reminded of St. Paul's words: "To live is Christ," and "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." Those are the mottos of people like Brothers Luke and Paschal and Jason, and you and me.
St. Paul is the patron of our diocese of Birmingham in Alabama; and we are proud of that fact. In my previous life as Bishop of Charleston, St. John the Baptist was the diocesan patron. I once looked to him as I now look to St. Paul for intercession for the needs of this diocese.
It is interesting that both St. Paul and St. John the Baptist died as martyrs. Both were beheaded for their convictions and commitment to Christ.
St. Matthew's Gospel today describes the strange sequel to John's beheading. It tells us that John's head "was brought in on a platter and given to" the daughter of Herodias, who in turn took it to her mother. In Paul's case there is the legend that when he was beheaded, his head bounced three times, and at each spot a fountain of water emerged. I visited this summer the Church of Tre Fontane, of the three fountains, over the alleged spot where the beheading is said to have occurred.
No doubt both Saints would have reacted with a light-hearted spirit in the aftermath of the disposition of their heads. They held little regard for the outcome of their human lives this side of eternity. They knew God controlled everything in life and in death. Why be concerned about what happens to their human remains once God greeted them in eternity?
We will not likely to face the great witness of faith of the martyrs, but today we witness the faith of people like Brothers Luke and Paschal and Jason. May their witness today, as that of Sts. Paul and John the Baptist, lead us all closer to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Thank you, my brothers, for your great witness of faith to all who are with you in this celebration of Holy Mass.