There is a mysterious passage in the Book of Revelation, a book of Sacred Scripture more mysterious than most. It comes from the concluding promise at the end of one of the letters to the seven churches that inaugurates that book:
“To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.” (Revelation 2:17)
There are, I believe, events or episodes in each life where we are given that white stone, containing our new name, our true name. Some are very private and others are quite public.
As a monk for over 30 years, I have seen and been involved in many liturgies and religious ceremonies, including reception of postulants, the profession of vows, and of course liturgies of farewell and of funerals. But no monastic ceremony speaks more strongly to me of this mysterious promise than the clothing of a novice.
The candidate, who has completed a postulancy or testing period, comes before the community and formally enters the monastic life. He promises to live the Rule, and to conform his ways to the monastic way until such time as he either makes a solemn vow to embrace this way for all his days, or until he or the community discern that another Gospel path is his call.
The ceremony is simple and powerful. Its visual climax is the clothing of the postulant in the habit of the community, an outward and visible sign, if you will, of an inward and spiritual disposition.
New names, new clothes…these speak of the mysterious working of the Spirit who has promised to make all things new. We know, of course, that we are all unfinished works in this promise of transformation, and shall remain so until death and perhaps even beyond. But the promise and the pledge is acted out, so to speak, in front of our eyes. And we are caught up again in the mystery of our own conversion, however partial and incomplete.
And so it is at births and baptisms and graduations and weddings and ordinations and funerals…each is an effective reminder and sacrament of the promise and power of God to transform our lowly way of life into a way of grace.
As I presided at the service of Br. Charles’ novice clothing on May 6, 2016 at Holy Cross Priory in Toronto, Canada, I could not help but think of my own so many years earlier. My Prior gave me a card that day on which he had written a verse from Psalm 102: “…as clothing you shall change them [i.e., the foundations of the earth], and they shall be changed.”
Indeed they will. And so will we all.
Br. Robert Sevensky, OHC, is the Superior of The Order of the Holy Cross.