The Reception of the Habit
Homily from Fr. Michael C. Harrington at the June 30, 2017 Vestition Mass
Pope Benedict XVI once shared a story by Leo Tolstoi, the Russian writer, who tells of a harsh sovereign who asked his priests and sages to show him God so that he might see him. The wise men were unable to satisfy his desire.
Then a shepherd, who was just coming in from the fields, volunteered to take on the task of the priests and sages. From him the king learned that his eyes were not good enough to see God. Then, however, he wanted to know at least what God does. "To be able to answer your question,” the shepherd said to the king, "we must exchange our clothes.” Somewhat hesitant but impelled by curiosity about the information he was expecting, the king consented; he gave the shepherd his royal robes and had himself dressed in the simple clothes of the poor man.
Then came the answer: "This is what God does.” Indeed, the Son of God, true God from true God, shed his divine splendour: "he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men; and being found in human form he humbled himself..., even unto death on a cross" (cf. Phil 2:6ff.).
Today as we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Paul, we celebrate the Vestition Day of Sr, Danielle, Sr. Julie and Sr. Putri. When I was asked to celebrate this Mass, I immediately thought of the invitation of Saint Paul to discipleship or maybe I should say the imperative of discipleship “to put on Christ” or to “clothe yourselves with Christ!” So, what does it mean for us to be clothed with Christ?
I was thinking of this a couple of days ago when I accidentally cut off someone as I was driving. I filled a space where a car wanted to make a turn. I didn’t see them until the last minute and I had already cut them off. The driver of the other car was not happy. When I looked at him, it was pretty clear he was swearing at the top of his lungs. I thought he overreacted. I had also had a fairly harrowing day. Although I never swear at anybody, I did feel the temptation to answer him harshly.
Then I thought…who do I represent? That means something in every circumstance.
So being clothed with Christ…what does this mean? What kind of statement does this make about our character? about our personality? What does it mean especially now for you sisters?
Tomorrow when you make your profession, your betrothal to Christ will invite you into an intimate share of his life, death and resurrection as a Daughter of St. Paul. You will be given a new wardrobe…and I don’t mean just what is before me…but is something more interior of which these are an outward sign. Saint Paul tells us that being clothed in Christ, means being made one in Christ.
I’m not sure if each of you were baptized as infants in the Church. If so, you parent might recall bringing you to the church in your white garments. The priest said these words on that day:
"…you have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.”
What is happening is a death to self and a new birth, a new life in Christ.
Life flows from death: We see this reality all around us in the natural world. Seasons change, flowers wither and fade. But with their death, new life springs forth. The same holds true in the supernatural world: Life always flows from death.
Tomorrow your consecration is a death that flows into life. Poverty, Chastity, Obedience is a renunciation of the self, of death to the self, in order to give first place to the life of Christ…the Way of love, the Truth of love, the Life of Love….the clothing of love. I die to self, to my self-centered inclinations, my selfish desires, to all that is opposed to God and other, so that it is Christ who lives and acts through me. Recall the words of Jesus, who invites us to take his yoke upon us and to learn from him who is "gentle and lowly in heart" (Mt 11:29).
Taking the Lord's yoke upon us (or clothing ourselves in Christ) means first of all: learning from him. It means always being ready to go to his school. From him we must learn gentleness, meekness…poverty, chastity and obedience.