Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of my perpetual profession of vows. That’s when I made lifelong vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. It was also the sixteenth anniversary of my first profession.
Joy—that sunny September day in Connecticut—it was a day of pure joy. I had spent the last two years preparing for it.
“I, Kevin, promise and vow to Almighty God to live in poverty, chastity, and obedience…”
Joy, powerful joy. During the professions mass, I had spied my family out of the corner of my eye—all eight of my brothers and sisters, mom and dad too. I couldn’t help but smile and cry all at once. After the mass, we all just couldn’t stop hugging each other and laughing. I remember the bright blue sky and the puffy clouds… and this overwhelming, overpowering sense of joy. I don’t think I stopped smiling for a week.
Joy for something many people would think a not-so-joyful occasion. I, along with the young men at my side, was giving up wealth, a wife, and my will after all. Yet we were so happy. I am so happy as I relive it now. I have been so happy as I have lived my vows these last sixteen years.
Joy too, after the reception when, for the first time, I had donned a “clergyman”, the clerical collar worn outside the seminary. My parents asked me where I wanted to go and my choice was… you guessed it, Sweet Claude’s Ice Cream on Main Street in Cheshire. My dad still thinks their strawberry is the best in the country, and I must agree. We went there as a family first thing each time I professed my vows, and to this day I consider getting ice cream there something akin to a pilgrimage.
Joy, yes, that’s the word. A foretaste of heaven, really. I’m not saying the ride has always been as smooth as Sweet Claude’s Ice Cream, there have been and are tough moments. But that day, this anniversary, the living of these vows… yes, they are joy.
The joy of poverty, not owning anything, but really having everything. At times I’ve had to beg, and the people of God have treated me like their own son. Poverty has not been a lack, it has been fullness, freedom, peace. What do I have to worry about losing if I own nothing? Yes, there are times when I would have loved to have bought even just a cheeseburger from McDonald’s, only I didn’t have any money. But I have never lacked what I truly needed.
The joy of chastity, perhaps what I thought back then would be the hardest, for I dearly wanted to marry and have a family of my own. But I do have a family now, a family larger than any earthly family. I am a “Father” and my spiritual children number not two, or even ten, but hundreds. I haven’t given my heart to any earthly spouse, but a heavenly one, a spouse who never has even so much as a bad hair day!
The joy of obedience, perhaps the vow that demands the most, but also the one that blesses the most. I can’t count how many times I came up with what I thought was a great idea, only to have holy obedience stop me from doing something catastrophic. It is hard, but when we are obedient, God replaces our weakness with his strength. It is wisdom, divine wisdom.
Joy, yes, joy. That’s the only word language provides that comes close to describing it all. Joy with a capital “J”!
This morning thirteen young men took their first vows, just like I did sixteen years ago. I was there at the mass, renewing my own vows in my heart as they made theirs. I ask you to pray for them and me, and I will carry all of you in my heart in prayer.
And please share in our Joy!
It’s so funny, every year we just assume that the day of professions will be a sunny day. Even if the forecast is rainy, we set up our reception outside. And the sun comes! As far back as I remember, there’s never been so much as a drop of rain. It’s like the heavens are joining us in our joyful celebration.