Our community welcomed our second new novice of the year on April 17, 2016, the Feast of the Good Shepherd. Sr. Brandi-Lynn McWhorter was clothed in the Benedictine habit during our Lauds prayer service. Below is a reflection given by Mother Maria-Michael for the occasion of her clothing.
In the prayer for the blessing of the Habit we hear, “O God, in Your fidelity You promise us eternal goods and You always fulfill your promises, we ask you to bless this religious habit by which your handmaid who will wear it desires to express her readiness to serve you with undivided devotion.”
The key is desire. When a novice receives the habit, she is questioned, “What do you ask?” In asking this, the abbess is also asking, what is your desire in prostrating yourself before the altar of the Lord? What is your desire as you hold out your hands to receive what isn’t yours? Every morning when we arise and put on the habit – we have to remember that it was through desire that we answered those questions.
The novice is also asked, “Are you willing to seek God in this community and test [and I mean test!] your vocation to the monastic life?” This is the time of testing – much will be expected of you. In Chapter 58 of the Rule of St Benedict, on the reception of brothers into the monastery, it says, “Let a senior who has the ability to win over souls be appointed to watch over him merrily and carefully, to discover whether he truly seeks God and is eager for the Work of God, for obedience and for obtaining humility.” The rigor and austerity that we use in our journey to God should be laid before him. It isn’t an easy life. The only way to live it is to live it fully – with desire.
A novice is taken through the valley of Humility. It is rich, beautiful and mortifying. It is a tough place to be but it is the richest. There will be the cliffs of Obedience. There are going to be cliff-hangers but those are ones that will climb to the heights. There are the silent streams that flow strong and to drink one must be silent. We take times of silence to drink deeply of Christ. That relationship is the only thing that ties us strongly to the monastic life. Know the voice of the Good Shepherd. Know it well. You must be able to discern the voice of the Good Shepherd because so often when we pray and ask God to speak to us, He speaks through our superiors. We have to be able to recognize His voice speaking to us through our Abbess.
“My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My father who has given them to me, is greater than all and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”