Delivered on September 17, 2011
Br. Karekin Madteos Yarian, BSG
On the occasion of a Foundation Day Retreat
Today we reflect on foundations. Our personal and our communal ones. Each of us comes into adulthood having certain foundations provided for us. Family, social mores and expectations, religious ones. These determine, largely, how we choose to interact with the world, what we choose to pursue as our work and with our personal time, and what kinds of relationships we cultivate to pursue these goals.
The Church, also, has its foundations. Built upon the testimony of Scripture and the apostles teachings, they can be distilled into neat summary packages such as the Nicene Creed or the words of our Memorial Acclamation: “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.” Our aims and goals as “church” are, as in our personal lives, distilled from these foundations. How do we choose to interact with the world, what do we choose to pursue as our work and with our personal time, and what kinds of relationships do we cultivate to pursue these goals?
Religious life is no different. And today I want to speak to Gregorian religious life in particular. As we celebrate the forty-second year of our own founding, what are the foundations upon which we build our way of life? How do they inform the way we live in the world? And how can they inform the lives of those around us so that we might be true to our calling to be messengers of the light of Christ.
Here are some of the foundational statements about the Gregorian religious life, that perhaps may shed some insight into our way of being in the world. Our hope, as always, is that the religious life and the Gregorian Way in particular can inspire all Christians to take up the fullness of their calling to be children of God.
One – Baptism compels us to do something. More than just a rite of passage or incorporation into the church, Baptism changes our very nature in relationship to God. We become different creatures than we were before. The vows made by us, or on our behalf at Baptism, demand something of us. Gregorian religious life is one response to those demands. It is the manner in which we choose to live out the promises we have made and to live into our calling as children of God.
Two – Christian people cannot live into the vows we make in Baptism without other people. Community is the very way in which we are schooled in holy living. Church, more than just a place to worship on a Sunday, is intended to be one such community. But the Church alone cannot bring us to holiness. Religious communities that have developed over the centuries were founded with the intention of being just such a school of holiness, witnessing to the individual, the church, and the greater society just what it means to live into the promises of Baptism.
Three – Jesus calls us to be agents of healing and reconciliation, by first healing us. Jesus, having shown us the way to God, provides for us a template of a holy life. We are intended to follow the example of Jesus’ love for God, by doing all that God would have us do – even if it means losing our own life to find it. Gregorian religious life tries to discover through prayer, meditation, and service – the means of patterning our lives after the love of God and love of neighbor that, as Jesus shows us, is the whole meaning of the law that God provides for a holy life.
Four – Community is essential to help us discover and nourish our own gifts for ministry in the Kingdom of God. Without community to temper, teach, and guide – spiritual gifts can be neglected, undiscovered, or dangerous. Religious communities provide a framework of formation, discipline, and accountability that helps us discover our gifts and use them rightly.
Five – A vow is not a promise. Vows are made in the presence of God and in some cases to God and, unlike promises, they cannot be broken. In Baptism, we make, or have made for us, vows to conform to Christian life. In marriage, two parties make vows to each other invoking God as a witness. Ordination entails vows. And religious life does also. Gregorian vows do not supercede other vows, but they provide us with the context in which all of the other vows we have made in our lives can be carried out. Particularly our Baptismal vows.
Six – The Kingdom of God is very near. So near, in fact, that grace is available at every turn to witness and experience and proclaim. Religious life is about living the Kingdom of God here and now. It is about taking on the process of discovery of all that God intends for us, and being deliberate in answering God’s call. Gregorian religious life is about witnessing, experiencing, and proclaiming. In fact, religious life proclaims that our common life in love and service is the very image of the Kingdom of God.
Seven – The Creator of all that is, the author of all life, has reached right into the heart of each individual in the most extraordinarily intimate way. God seeks us, desires relationship with us, and wants our participation in the healing of the world. The impulse to Gregorian religious life arises from a response to the knowledge of God’s intimate self-giving love and concern in the heart of every individual.
Eight – All of our labor and work are equal in God’s eyes. All work can be holy. God calls us where we are, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, to offer ourselves for the work of the Kingdom. Gregorian religious life calls us to make our work an offering of self-giving love to God’s glory. It calls us to bring a spirit of servanthood to even those seeming mundane tasks appointed to us.
Finally – One need not retreat from the world to serve God through a life of complete dedication. Religious can live fully in the world, while not being of the world. Gregorian religious life can be integrated completely with families, neighborhoods, and communities. In fact, it can sanctify all of these things. A life of prayer and service can bring new meaning to the many things we take for granted when lived fully in the presence of a suffering world in need of light and love and healing.
So – while Gregorian life is not necessarily for everyone to try on for size, we are here to witness to a way of living into a Kingdom life by honoring the vows of Baptism. We are here to love and serve you by offering a vision of what Christian life can be. We are here to be reconcilers and healers and servants of the servants of God. Not for our own glory, but to the glory of the God who created and sustains us.
As you ponder these things, here’s what I’d like for you to reflect on during your Emmaus walk this afternoon -
What do you want God to do for you? And what would you like to do for God?