“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 16:24). While this call from Jesus is meant for all Christians, it has resonated with me in a particular way these past few weeks.
On May 25, 2011, surrounded by a large gathering of friends and family, Br. Thomas Schaefgen and I professed Solemn Vows to the Order of Preachers. I would not consider us martyrs in the contemporary sense. But in “losing our lives” to the Order we have both shown prophetic witness to the Gospel and found life again. And I have found gifts in this life far richer than anything I have laid down.
Dominicans have been a part of my life since the Southern Province’s own Brian Donovan baptized me as an infant. And I have known the Order from a friar’s perspective for nearly four years, first as a novice and then as a student brother in simple vows. Even though I grew up around Dominicans, as a friar I came to know my brothers “from the inside,” seeing us as family the way I never knew friars through schools or parishes.
Living in Dominican community offers many blessings. I have received support when faced with trouble. I have experienced great joy living among my brothers. And I have found the beauty of belonging to a global family with a unique legacy: preaching the joy of the Risen Christ as it comes out of our own joy.
However, none of these experiences quite prepared me for the moment of profession. As I knelt before fr. Chris Eggleton, my provincial, and professed those words of obedience, I was aware that every life decision I had made to that point, for good or for ill, ultimately led to that solemn moment. There are few instances where I have been so keenly aware of my life seamlessly fused to the Gospel. This was the moment where I picked up the cross with great joy and followed after Jesus Christ, side by side with Dominic de Guzmán.
As I walked from friar to friar after professing, embracing my family, each embrace and exchange of words took new meaning. The great “if” of religious life dissolved to reveal the “yes” of our vows. In the eyes of each friar, I saw recognition. They knew that I finally realized what they saw and had been communicating to me all these years: the great mystery of religious profession that is never hidden, but can only be seen once you have spoken those solemn words.
That mystery is best expressed in Jesus’ own words. He says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:29). Again, this invitation to all people comes to me in the form of religious profession. Since professing, the burden of discernment has seemed much lighter and more freeing. Each day I still ponder the work ahead of me as I continue initial formation. But it now seems like the most natural work to undertake. I no longer ask whether this is what God calls me to do. I accept it as a part of the “yes.”
And that yes is threefold: mine, the Order’s and ultimately God’s. This joyful yes is eternal, not only on my part, but because it echoes the yes of every Dominican for 800 years. And it comes out of the yes of Blessed Mary, who bore the Word we preach in her womb, that we might bear the same Word in our very souls.
The moment of profession to the Order unites one to a legacy of preachers who have all taken up their crosses and received Christ’s yoke. In every generation, the children of St. Dominic strive to be gentle and humble of heart, because that is what Jesus showed himself to be and what Dominic hoped for his entire family. And like Dominic, Catherine of Sienna, Martin de Porres, and countless others, the gentle and humble hearts of Dominicans speak with voices of great passion for the Good News. I cannot be happier to have united my voice with theirs.
It is impossible to sum up this entire experience in a single word; so I will not attempt it. But I can sum up what Solemn Profession means to me in two words: joy and peace. I find joy each day within the Dominican family. I find peace in the life of Christ, with St. Dominic as my companion.