Epiphany and Religious Profession

The great solemnity of Epiphany is a most appropriate feast for the ceremony of religious profession. The different portions of the Liturgy are highly symbolic; especially alluding to the gifts and virtues the future brides of Christ must possess, and also in representation of perseverance in their vocations. Guided onwards by the divine light, the novices had persevered bravely in their search for the Lord; despite the momentary eclipses of the star.

In St Matthew’s Gospel, it is related that the star guided the three Magi, “Until it came and stood over where the Child was.” ‘Is it to be wondered that a divine Star ministers to the Rising Sun of Justice? It halts above the head of the Child as if saying: This is He: as though being unable to proclaim Him in words it proclaims Him by standing above Him.” St Leo adds that “It was fitting for the Baby Jesus, a speechless child, to be announced by a silent star, whereas once grown He would be announced by apostles. This way, all creation could take its turn at proclaiming Him: the heavens, by sending a star; the sea, by becoming solid under His feet, the earth and rocks, by trembling and breaking when He was silent once more in death…”

The novices, as the Magi, must have great faith in their search of the Divine King. At Bethlehem, the Magi’s faith was put to the test by the sight of God under the form of Man; and now, our faith is exercised at the sight of God under the form of Bread.

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This was the great test which the Magi had to face: the humiliations of the Infant God at Bethlehem. Quite naturally they expected to find all the splendors of heaven and earth surrounding the cradle of the newborn Babe, the Messiah. At Jerusalem they had heard the prophecy of Isaias concerning His glory.

But what a surprise! What a scandal for faith less strong than theirs! Guided by the star they came to the stable, and what did they see? A poor Child with His young Mother. The Child was laid on the straw like the poorest of the poor, nay more, like a little lamb just born; He slept in the midst of animals; He had only wretched swaddling clothes to protect Him against the bitter cold…

What would the Magi do? See them on their knees, their heads bowed to the ground, adoring with the most profound humility this little Child. They weep for joy as they contemplate Him. They are delighted with His poverty to the point of rapture. Et procidentes adoraverunt Eum! “And falling down they adored Him!”

Great God! What a puzzling mystery! Never do kings lower themselves in this way, even before other sovereigns! What is it they saw in the stable, in the Crib, in the Child? What did they see? Love! An unspeakable love; the true love of God for man; God impelled by His love to become poor; God becoming weak so as to comfort the weak and the forsaken; God suffering so as to prove His love. That is what the Magi saw. That was the reward of their faith…

The sacramental humiliation of Jesus Christ is also a test of Christian faith. Jesus in His Sacrament receives for the most part nothing but indifference, and very often unbelief and contempt. Understand well this sad truth; it is easy to learn: Mundus eum non cognovit. “The world knew Him not.”

But to a real Christian, this is not a scandal or a test of faith – his lively faith pierces through the poverty and weakness of Jesus and goes straight to the soul of Jesus to study His awe-inspiring thoughts and feelings. And finding our Lord’s divinity united to His Sacred Body and hidden beneath the Sacred Species, the Christian, like the Magi, falls down, contemplates, and adores; he is transported with the most enrapturing love; he has found Jesus Christ! Et procidentes adoraverunt Eum!

The novices also this day imitate the Magi in their adoration. As the Magi from their treasures offered to the Lord mystic kinds of gifts, so they too brought forth from their hearts gifts that were worthy of Him: offering Him the gold of a pure heart, the incense of a life devoted to prayer, and the myrrh of the sacrifice of all things and of themselves.
The three vows of religion, as well, are like unto the three gifts of the Magi. The sisters lay before their King – the gold of Poverty, the incense of Chastity, and the myrrh of Obedience. By the vow of poverty, the religious give up all their earthly wealth for the sake of their Infant King. The Magi gave frankincense to acknowledge Christ’s Divinity and the sisters doe the same through the vow of chastity – by tempering and mortifying their senses so that, burned by the fire of charity, they may rise to Him like a pure, sweet perfume. Finally, as the Magi gave myrrh to symbolize that Jesus would die for our sake, through the vow of obedience, religious die to their own wills for His sake.

“… I promise obedience to God and to Blessed Mary, and to Blessed Dominic and to you Mother…”

“How fortunate to be able to share, through the Eucharist, the happiness of Mary, and of the Magi who offered gifts to Je
sus Christ! In the Eucharist we still have the poverty of Bethlehem to relieve. Oh! Yes! all the good things of grace and of glory come to us through the divine Eucharist. Their fountainhead is at Bethlehem, which became a heaven of love…”

“Posuit signum in faciem meam ut nullum, praeter eum, amatorem admittam”

“He has placed a sign on my brow that I accept no lover but Him”

As the new religious kneel before the Tabernacle, they might well hear the exhortation of St Bernard:

“Whence is this to thee, O Human Soul, whence to thee? Whence to thee this immeasurable glory, that you should merit to become the spouse of Him on Whom the angels desire to look? Whence is it to thee that He is thy Bridegroom Whose beauty the sun and the moon reflect with wonder, at whose nod all things are moved? What wilt thou render to the Lord for all that He has rendered to thee, (Ps. cxv. 12) who art the companion of His table, the sharer of His Kingdom, the consort of His bridal chamber, and at the end the King will bring you into His House?”

“Be ye therefore followers of God, as most dear children; and walk in love,
as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered Himself for us,
an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness.” (Eph 5)

“Behold how much already you perceive of the Lord, how much you have already tasted of Him; see with what eagerness of love bestowed must He be embraced and loved in return, Who has deemed thee worthy of so much, nay, Who for thee has done so much? From His side He refashioned thee, when for thee He slept upon the Cross, and for thee accepted the sleep of death. For thee He went forth from His Father, departed from the Synagogue His mother, that cleaving to thee, you might become one with Him in spirit.

“And hearken thou, O Daughter, and see, and reflect, (Ps. xliv.11) and consider how great is the condescension of thy God to thee, and forget thy people and thy father’s house. Depart from the loves of the flesh, unlearn the ways of the world, withhold thee from thy former sins, and forget thy evil habits. And why you may wonder? Does not an angel of God stand by thee, who shall cut thee in two (Dan. xiii, 59), should you, which God forbid, accept another lover?”

“As He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy
and unspotted in His sight in charity…” (Eph 1)

The Magi are our models, the first adorers. Let us pray that these new religious be worthy of their royal faith in Jesus Christ; that they may be heirs to the love of the Magi, and so one day will be heirs to their glory.

{Excerpts taken from the Fathers of the Church and the writings of the Saints}

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