Homily given by Tom on the 50th Anniversary of Sr. Kate’s Final Profession, given in 2010. 718 words. Tom reflects on what happens to one in a life of solitude and how this life is an enigma in our consumer society, and yet it is in solitude that we encounter God and so are able to grow into love of neighbour.
We meet this evening in Eucharistic gratitude for Sr. Kate’s fifty years. And since all of us here can look back to our own professions, over many or few years, perhaps it would be an occasion to share some thoughts together. Some thoughts about the journey of solitude, because solitude is at the heart not only of the solitary but also those living in monastic community. As trees in a wood are rooted way below the surface.
When I look back over the years at my profession (about the same time span as Kate’s), I realise that saying ‘yes’ to the vows was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life. I thought that after four years I knew what monastic life was about and what I was vowing myself to. My big mistake was to think I was saying ‘yes’ to a what, a way of life, when in fact I was saying ‘yes’ to a who. To a living God who is wise enough to seduce us and con us into saying ‘yes’ before he lets us know what lies ahead. Thus it was with Mary at the Annunciation, thus it is for our ‘fiats – I surely do not speak only of myself?
So what do we encounter on the way of solitude, what do we find happening in and to us?
One thing is to find ourself a misfit. And especially today in the consumer ethos which presents what is sensible. Our inner language of meaning and identity grows away from the obvious, common sense language of the world we live in. We become an enigma, an enigma even to ourselves.
It is not easy to be silly. It may be a whole self-delusion. A hiding to nothing. Some sort of nostalgic escapism from the reality of our contemporary world.
Or it may be what Paul spoke of. We are learning to be fools for Christ’s sake. Fools, not as a programme of some perverted delight in being odd, but fools as a surprise by-product of seeing all from the heart of God. No longer just in themselves.
And a second thing we may find is acute and profound loneliness.
I used to accompany small groups of boys caving and potholing in the Pennines. One had to warn them to take special care for the first 20 or 30 minutes. They would not be able to see anything. Just one step after another. Perhaps the entrée into solitude has to be loneliness. The underground beauty can only bit by bit reveal itself as the eyes of our heart acclimatise.
It is a time, this loneliness and self-doubt, for a special form of abandonment and poverty. Just one foot after another – nothing else.
And something of that loneliness will always be there. Not least a desperate desire to share with friends, with hungry people, with anyone, what is taking shape in us – God’s intimate gift of his own life – ‘No one knows the Father except the Son, and those he is able to share with.’ Oh how Jesus longed to share, and found he could only do so in snippets here and there.
And a third experience we may find in the way of solitude may come as a great surprise. Quite unexpected.
So much writing about solitude as ‘alone with the Alone’, Nada y nada, being caught up into God – so much of what we read about the journey before we were ready to experience – may have made us expect, and fear, a solitude which would make us so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good, (as they say).
But a true journey into solitude, as long as it is shorn of romantic expectations, or narcissistic forms of ‘spirituality’, in fact brings us into profound communion with people. Invites us, in the crucified living one, to carry in ourselves the agonies of people. Solitude sensitises us, makes our hearts both more vulnerable and more all-embracing.
It was Jesus’ intimacy with his Father, his solitude, which gave his heart universal love of people and at the same time the terrible capacity to carry evil and agony in himself.
Go and tell my brothers and sisters that I go before them. Father I pray that where I am they may be also.