During my time in formation, I have seen a few Final Vows weekends come and go. Each time, I had the privilege of witnessing great men make an incredible promise to God. Yet I feel this year, my experience will be a little different, a little more personal. Our two candidates for Final Vows, Matthew Hovde, C.S.C., and Dennis Strach, C.S.C., were two people I traveled with in their journey through formation. Matt and I started as freshmen in Old College 8 years ago and Dennis joined us as Postulants at Moreau Seminary a few years later. I have seen the discernment, growth and sacrifice that these two men put into their journey as they came to this moment. When they say that they make to God forever the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, I will have a better sense of what went into that commitment, how they developed the desire and love to give themselves to God in this way.
I always find the profession of Final Vows to be an extremely powerful testament in our world. I can just feel that in the moment when “forever” is said, there is a sense of awe among all those gathered in the Basilica. People find it amazing that someone could ever come to a point to give himself so completely and wholeheartedly to the Lord, that someone could have the confidence and assurance of publically professing that he wants to dedicate himself to serve the Lord as a religious living the Evangelical Counsels. This event moves people, inspires them, gives them hope. But why? What is at the root of the awe that we feel when we see someone committing himself to God forever? It is because in that moment we see what God has made us to do: commit ourselves. We now live in a world in which we are afraid to make commitments. We always want to have an out, another possibility, an escape just in case the road we are walking down proves to be the wrong one someday. When we begin to close doors in our lives, we become afraid, and so, we try to keep all our doors open. We see this most clearly in couples that decide not to get married, but rather opt to live together so that they can leave each other at any point if things begin to get difficult. Yet if we live this way, we miss something. We are simply people who float about in the world aimlessly. And quite frankly, God simply did not make us to live this way. Floating about does not fulfill us; it only temporarily abates our fear.
Commitment is a scary thing. The reason why people look at something like Final Vows with awe is because they can look at it and think, “How scary!” This person is closing doors and diving head first into one path. Yet below the surface of this fear, there is a sense of desire. The awe-inspiring nature of Final Vows is that we get to see one of the deepest yearnings of the human heart: committing. But it is committing in such a way that we do not see it as closing doors or narrowing our options in life, but rather as an opening up in love to the One who first loved us. Commitment is not restricting; it’s freeing. That is the witness that I have seen in the men who have professed vows—they convey to all that in that moment of their profession they believe with all of their being that they are truly free and that they are dedicating themselves solely out of love, a deep love for their Creator and Savior. And that truly is awesome! People look at that and long to do the same in their lives because what they have seen is a prophetic witness to one of the deepest desires of our human nature.
When I look out and see my two classmates say “forever,” I will see two men who are truly convinced that they are free in their commitment and that they are driven purely by their love for their Lord. By journeying with them, I will know what went into that moment, what went into becoming free and growing in the love that spurs them on. And for that reason, this Final Vows will be a little different, a little more personal. In being with two people on their road of becoming more fully human, I will appreciate more the witness they give to the world and the pure awe they leave with us in saying “forever” with love.
Mr. Ryan Pietrocarlo, C.S.C., has just returned to Moreau Seminary after completing a pastoral year in Monterrey, Mexico. Ryan graduated from Notre Dame with an undergraduate degree in biochemistry prior to entering into formation with Holy Cross. He is originally from East Rochester, New York.