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Ordinations, Installations & Professions

Solemn Profession of Andrew Brookes

Andrew, today God is inviting you to make a definitive decision: in a few moments you will – unless you change your mind – promise obedience ‘until death’, commiting your whole life to following in the way of the preaching friars.

Now, as you know, when you put your hands in mine to make this profession we will have a book on top of our hands. Some of you in the congregation may not know what this is: it is the Book of Constitutions and Ordinations of our Order. Why this book? Because it symbolises the fact the the obedience you vow is in accordance with those constitutions. We could say, then, that in a certain way your obedience is limited: Friars can be put under obedience to live in a certain place, to do certain a job, to cook dinner on a certain day, say a particular Mass, preach a retreat, write a doctoral thesis… But your obedience to your superiors is only in accordance with the constitutions, and your superiors are as bound by them as you are.

That’s the good news… You were probably expecting me to follow that with, ‘but here’s the bad news’, but this is a joyful occasion, and this is a Dominican church, and we don’t preach bad news here. So, here’s the even better news: you don’t just promise obedience to your superiors, but also, and first, to God. And there can be no limit on that.

Because today you are invited to make that same decision that Jesus invited St Matthew to make, as we just heard. In what is, we may imagine, a somewhat stylised account, Jesus calls, Matthew follows, and there the matter ends. I imagine that in real life Matthew’s post-conversion story was a more complex one, with moments of excitement and enthusiasm mixed with setbacks, doubts, confusions, perhaps even betrayals. So it will be with you. Nevertheless, it does all come down to a simple choice: either Jesus is the only way to God, and therefore shows us the only way to be human, or not. There can be no half choices, no fudging, for the Christian, and none for you today either.

Now what Matthew has done is to rebel against his political society. Not, as you might think, the Romans, but Herod, who had at least an arguable claim to be the authentic king of Jews: he had rebuilt the temple, after all. And Matthew was his tax collector; taxes are needed, and though collecting them is an unpopular job, someone has to do it!

Yet Matthew rebels, because the call of Jesus allows no hesitation, no compromises with the status quo.

Sometimes, and for you Andrew I hope today is one of those times, we feel same drama in our lives, when Jesus calls us to rebel against society in a big way. Some people chain themselves to railings and get arrested (you know who you are); some even get martyred. You and I have chosen – perhaps this is less dramatic, perhaps not – to join a religious order and to vow poverty, chastity and obedience in the face of the world’s mockery and perhaps the bemused incomprehension of some of our loved ones. And we might even feel pleased with ourselves: there is a certain glamour in rebellion, a certain romance. Perhaps we could see ourselves as the brave few against the world.

But more often the way of discipleship is not glamorous: it is non-descript, mundane. In that way, religious life is typical of Christian discipleshipe. You might have joined for the glamour – in case of the Dominican Order, of course, especially the glamour of wearing the best habit of any order in the Church – but you stay for the ordinariness of our life, the routine of cooking, washing up, setting up for Mass, putting books away in library...

Saint Matthew too, after a dramatic start, perhaps lived a life filled mostly with routine jobs, plugging away at work of evangelisation day after day, seemingly a thousand years away from that one amazing day.
So should we be worried by this? Is Saint Matthew’s apostolic career a let down? Will yours be? No! (I told you there was no bad news). Why? Because ultimately, the party after Matthew’s dramatic job change was not a celebration of his leaving society, of getting out, but of coming in. This explains the Pharisees’ objection to that party: Jesus was symbolising, by eating with tax collectors and sinners, that people were on the inside whom the Pharisees thought should be kept outside. Jesus says that he came to call sinners, not the righteous. There’s an interesting parallel here between something that is true of Christianity and something that St Thomas Aquinas says of religious life: it’s for those who desire perfection, not for those who have already attained it.

Today, then, you are definitively accepting Jesus’s invitation to come inside. Because you see, we Christians are not the real rebels: the world is. Why should we expect to find the glamour of rebellion in Christianity when the real rebellion is against God and the real glamour is the glamour of evil that we reject at baptism? We have not become extraordinary by turning our backs on normality but by becoming normal!
Certainly the world sees Christianity, and Christians, as boring, dull, utterly devoid of glamour. I wonder if that’s the price we pay for being the few normal people in an abnormal world?

Before Mass I said I was going to give you a word of encouragement, of consolation. Well, what consolation can I offer you for the discovery that there may be little glamour in your Xian journey? Certainly the consolation – worth celebrating, as Saint Matthew did – of knowing that we have been called by Christ. That’s why we are at Mass today, and that’s partly why there is lots of wine awaiting our attentions in the Priory afterwards… But if this fact of being called becomes a source of pride, then we’re in danger of becoming like the Pharisees, rejoicing in our ‘in-ness’ at expense of others’ out-ness in which we take delight.

But there is a proper pride that we Dominicans can feel. It’s a bit like wearing the habit… There’s a fine line between wanting people to see you in it because it gives witness and perhaps will encourage others to join our Order, and wanting people to see how fabulous you look! Just as we can wear the habit with a proper pride because (at least partly) we wish to share life, so the true joy of being a Christian comes not from feeling special, one of the chosen few, but in sharing the good news that God’s mercy is open to all. As Saint Paul told us in our first reading today, ‘there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.’

When Saint Matthew had a party after his conversion, he was celebrating the fact not only that he had been received into the mercy of God, but that he had been commissioned, as an apostle and evangelist, to proclaim that mercy to all the world. You, Andrew, have received that same commission to proclaim God’s mercy. I know you well enough to know that you aren’t looking for glamour. I know I don’t need to tell you not be to boastful and prideful, that you will follow St Paul’s instructions ‘to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with [your brothers] in love.’ Perhaps it suffices to say that we, your brothers, feel great pride in you, and thankfulness for you and to you, and to your family and friends who have packed this church today and have helped you to come to this joyful moment. Thanks to you, Andrew, and just as St Matthew did two thousand years ago, today we really do have something to celebrate.

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