Fr Dominic Austin Cawdell OGS reflects on his first profession, which took place on the Feast of Teresa of Avila at General Chapter 2019.
‘So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.’ Colossians 3.1-4
The prayer which many of us use in our daily praying for the Oratory asks that the Lord would ‘lift us up more and more continually to heavenly desires’, which immediately calls to mind for me these beautiful words from the Epistle to the Colossians. I am beginning to realise that the Oratory life, as all religious profession, is fundamentally a ‘hidden’ life, as we are more and more immersed in the Seven Notes and seek to live the Rule in fellowship with our brothers. We are not saved by the keeping of the rule or by perfection in our financial accounting to one another, but by grace, as the Holy Spirit works silently in our hearts.
As the Introduction to the Seven Notes puts it: ‘Their membership will remind them that they can carry out their vocation of worship and service only in communion with the Good Shepherd and in the power of the Holy Spirit.’
At the Profession Mass earlier this month, I promised to live this life faithfully for the coming year, and to continue my discernment in this time, that I may ‘with all faithfulness at the appointed time renew my profession and intention, if it be the will of God.’ I said those words in the presence of my brothers, all of whom had made the same promises before me, which is a powerful reminder that none of us can live this life alone. We may not normally live together, but there are powerful bonds which unite us as we struggle, under God, to live out our baptismal consecration as brothers of the Oratory.
The rite of profession in OGS is rather simple; we renew the promises made at our baptism and, if we are ordained, the promises made at our ordination; we ‘solemnly pledge’ ourselves to observe the rule and constitution of the Oratory and declare our acceptance of the Seven Notes; and then we read our profession document, in which we request to be admitted as a full member and pledge ourselves to the Oratory life and discipline.
This simple ritual comes between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament. It feels very right that the rite of profession is placed here because all the commitments made by brothers and companions are a response to the Word of God and the written profession is then placed under the corporal on the altar, as the offering of our life is joined to the Eucharistic offering. Just as the reality of Christ’s presence is hidden under the sacramental veil; so, the reality of the religious life is ultimately ‘hidden with Christ in God’. As the Church’s offering of bread and wine is transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, so we pray that the often tepid, faltering offering of our lives may be taken up and transformed by the Holy Spirit’s power.
And, having made our professions, we receive Holy Communion, ‘the full gift of thine everlasting love’, to use Eric Milner White’s words; receiving the Body and Blood of Christ from the same altar on which our professions are placed, as the Lord’s response to the faltering gift we have made of ourselves, because it is ‘only in communion with the Good Shepherd’ that we can hope to live this life faithfully.
The King of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his
And he is mine for ever.
Where streams of living water flow
My ransomed soul he leadeth,
And where the verdant pastures grow
With food celestial feedeth.
Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love he sought me,
And on his shoulder gently laid,
And home, rejoicing, brought me.
In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
With thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.
Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
Thy unction, grace bestoweth:
And O what transport of delight
From thy pure chalice floweth!
And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise
Within thy house for ever.