Mar 12, 2011

Witnessing the First Profession of religious vow

How do you define beauty?

Some of us might say it’s the pleasing appearance, the physical attraction. Some say beauty comes from within the individual – inner beauty. Some of us recognise the beauty and awesomeness of Nature that is beyond words, which reflects the beauty of the Creator. Our Creator.

Whatever the definition of beauty is, I’ve seen the most beautiful “brides”, and no other brides or ladies in the Beauty Contests could ever replace that simplest yet unforgettable image imprinted in my mind recently.

On 7 March 2011, I was invited by the Sisters of St Francis of Sarawak (SSFS) to attend the First Profession of 3 novices (now junior sisters) in the convent. It was really a privilege for me as only the family members and close friends of the sisters were invited to witness the ceremony. The Mass was presided by our Archbishop John Ha and assisted by 5 other diocesan priests.

The Rite of First Profession began right after the homily. The novices were called forward; the Archbishop blessed the habits which were then handed to the novices and they left to get changed. As they returned, they were smiling from ear to ear! Then they made their profession. As I was watching them, I also felt touched and happy for the sisters, as if I was witnessing my own sister saying “yes” to her bridegroom in a wedding. The whole Rite concluded with the Archbishop blessing the crucifixes and presenting them to the newly professed sisters.

The Superior General handing over the blessed habit to the novice.

After Mass, everyone was invited for a sumptuous dinner at the hall. As I sat there alone enjoying my food (of all those present I only know some of the sisters and they were too busy attending to their guests, and I was also too shy to mix), I stole a few glances at the three newly professed sisters who were sitting with their family. Somehow, the three of them attracted me. They looked so different from the first time I met them when they were in their novice wear (I think they call it "the garb of probation"). The only word I had to describe how they looked at that point of time was "beautiful".

Really, they were simply beautiful. They didn’t put on any make-ups, nor did they have fancy hairstyles and heels and gowns; all they had were simple-looking white habits which also have their hair covered. There was no special adornment on them except for a plain-looking crucifix.

Posing with the three sisters, Sr Margaret, Sr Rose and Sr Mary Magdalene

They were certainly not the most attractive girls I’ve seen. But when they made their vows, at that very moment as they offered themselves body, heart and soul to the Lord, transformation took place. They chose to sacrifice themselves, surrendering everything they possess to embrace a humble lifestyle of “poverty, chastity and obedience,” with total submission to their Bridegroom in response to His call of Sacrificial Love. Through this act of consecration, they were embraced by Love in return; their hearts echoed with joy and peace, which was expressed through their beauty. That radiance I witnessed on their faces was just indescribable, so much so that I was gazing at them in awe! Seeing their beauty, I couldn’t help but praise and thank the Lord for calling them, setting them apart for His divine plan.

Maybe that’s why those who chose religious life are so good looking. If you ever noticed, most of those who are actively (and humbly) involved in the Church always don’t look their age. In the same way, I believe, Christians are called to put God first above all things, embrace Love and allow Love to mould us, making us instruments of His love as we radiate that love in our daily living.

Jesus tells us in the Gospel, "… seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Mt 6:33, NIV). We need not be too self-conscious, to the extent of forgetting our actual identity in Christ. Instead we should put our priority in nurturing our faith and grooming our inner self, for "people look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Sam 16:7). Eventually, our inner beauty will be reflected in our outward appearance, just like what I've witnessed in the three newly professed sisters.

As we pray for more vocations, let us also pray for ourselves, that we would courageously respond to His call to give ourselves unreservedly in the service of His people.

"Whenever we think of Christ we should recall the love that led Him to bestow on us so many graces and favours, and also the great love God showed in giving us in Christ a pledge of his love; for love calls for love in return." ~ St Teresa of Avila

Flower photo courtesy of Ewa Wiƛniewska