Saturday, August 13, 2016
CHEERING FOR BR. THOMAS
On August 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, our Brother Thomas Aquinas Hall, O.S.B., will profess his solemn (final) vows. This is an especially joyous event for us because we have celebrated solemn vows so rarely in the past decades.
The ceremony, celebrated during mass, includes the chanting of the Litany of the Saints. I described this in my book Downtown Monks) Last night Fr. Luke and I spent some time working on the litany to make sure that we were including as many appropriate saints as possible (e.g. Thomas Aquinas and several monastic saints such as Gertrude).
This morning I opened my missal to find that the Second Reading for Sunday, Aug 14, is from Hebrews 12:1-4. It begins “Brothers and sisters: Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden of sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us…”
Many of us have watched at least some of the Olympic Games, and have seen those images of the people in the stands wearing their country’s colors and shouting encouragement to the participants. This is the image that the author of Hebrews is offering to us. He has just spent the previous chapter describing the faithfulness of many famous figures of the Old Testament, he reassures his audience (many of whom were undergoing persecution at the time) that all of these faithful witnesses are cheering for them, encouraging them to persevere. (The word “persevere” occurs twice in this brief passage and again two verses later.)
After meditating on this image, I joined my brothers for Vigils and Lauds. As we sang and prayed the psalms, I kept looking around the church at the cloud of witnesses praying with us and encouraging us. In the stained glass windows across from me were St. Anne, St. Benedict, St. Agnes, and St. Francis, and high overhead the twelve apostles. But there were also our immediate ancestors in the faith – the monks who prayed in this church in the past 150 years.
The concept of the “Communion of Saints” is not about a bunch of dead people: it includes all of us saints on earth who are working at being holy. When we sing the litany on Monday, I will be silently invoking Fr. Boniface and Fr. Mark, members of our community who have died in the past few months and who are now cheering us on from the grandstand.
I will also be very much aware that I, too, am one of the witnesses: the monks and the members of the congregation will be cheering for Brother Tom as we run the race beside him, encouraging him – and one another – to persevere to the end.
Please join us in cheering for him. Go, Tom!