Rev. Thomas J. O’Hara, C.S.C., Provincial Superior of the United States Province of Priests and Brothers, preached the following homily at the Final Vows Mass of Matthew Hovde, C.S.C., and Dennis Strach II, C.S.C., on Saturday, August 29, 2015 from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
My sisters and brothers welcome to the Final Vows ceremony of Matthew Hovde & Dennis Strach. In a few minutes Matt and Dennis will profess their vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience to God as finally professed members of the Congregation of Holy Cross.
Matt & Dennis selected our scripture readings today to help us all understand what is in their hearts at this moment. Dennis was almost apologetic giving me the readings saying “I guess there isn’t much new you can say year after year on the day of final profession.”
Well Dennis has a point for what is about to happen is not always so understood in today’s culture. Indeed, as the Constitutions of Holy Cross state “Great is the mystery and meaning within these vows.” Yes, there is something mysterious about what Matt & Dennis are about to do. But in the very next sentence the Constitutions state the meaning is quite clear: “And yet their point is simple. They are an act of love for the God who first loved us.”
At its essence, then, what we celebrate today as they pronounce their vows is an act of love for the God who first loved them. And the Constitutions articulate how each vow is truly an act of Love of God: celibacy - “single hearted intimacy with God; poverty – “trusting dependence upon God and obedience - “willingly surrender to God”. In fact I will pointedly ask these men those questions before they pronounce their vows.
Dennis and Matt, great is the mystery of love. But in some ways not so great, for you have known and felt love in your lives. You first experienced the mystery of love in the love shown to you by your parents and your family who accompany you here today. You experienced that love in your life by the friends who supported you, cared for you and loved you. Many of those friends are here today. And you came to perceive that love in coming to know and appreciate the love expressed to you by your Holy Cross brothers and sisters, many here present.
So strengthened by all the love expressed for you by so many in this Basilica – you will shortly pronounce your final vows and commit yourself to the challenge given by Pope Benedict to all consecrated religious when he stated, “May your first and supreme desire be to witness to the fact that God should be listened to and loved with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength”. As Pope Benedict reminds us, for consecrated religious the greatest gift we can give to the world is to be so in love with God that we become witnesses of that love to those with whom we live and those to whom we serve. That is what you commit yourselves to today as you pronounce your vows.
There are two other important points your readings suggest. The first is that you are both humble enough to admit that your pronouncing the vows does not mean you have already achieved this great love. In the first reading we see God pursuing us as one would observe a lover pursuing the beloved. It is clear: God chose you before you chose God. And St. Paul in the second reading admits that his relationship with Christ is an ongoing process as he states “It is not that I have already taken hold of it but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession by Christ, but for my part do not consider myself to have been taken possession”. In other words and most importantly, you admit today God’s love for us overtakes us but we are constantly trying to love that God to the same degree. Today before all of us, you Matt and Dennis commit yourselves in sacred vows to wholehearted love with God. But you are right in suggesting you’re your commitment, as it was for Paul, needs to play out in life day by day. As our constitutions say “we profess our vows in a moment, but living then for the sake of the kingdom is the work of a lifetime. That fulfillment demands of us more than the mere wish, more than even the firm decision. It demands the conversion of our habits, our character, our attitudes, our desires”. Matt and Dennis, as much as we rejoice with you as you pronounce your Final Vows today, we thank you for your humility in recognizing that today really begins ever more seriously your lifetime of conversion. And today all of us in this basilica who know you and love you pledge to standby you in your process of life long conversion.
Finally, you chose The Gospel of the Vine and the Branches; we all know that gospel. As Christians all of us realize we remain in God’s love in so far as we, the branches, are connected to the vine that sustains us and nourishes us. But let me suggest as finally professed Religious of Holy Cross you also now unite yourselves forever to this tree we call the Congregation of Holy Cross.
Our Constitutions are clear on this very point, “Our calling is to serve the Lord Jesus in mission not as independent individuals but as a brotherhood.” And in terms of loving God wholeheartedly the constitutions are equally clear “If we do not love the brothers we see, then we cannot love the God whom we have not seen”. It is in the brotherhood that we do mission and it is in love for the brotherhood that we find ourselves loving the God who created us all. As brothers together in Holy Cross we carry out the mission of Holy Cross throughout the world. You have been blessed to experience that mission here at Notre Dame and in South Bend but also in places such in Phoenix, Arizona, Portland, Oregon, LeMans, France, Tantur, Israel and Lima, Peru. You have been privileged to experience Holy Cross in those places as men with hope to bring. United to the brotherhood of Holy Cross you have been able to meet the challenge laid out by Pope Benedict to all religious, “to be on the side of all who have never known love, and who are no longer able to believe in life. And so you stand against all forces of injustice, hidden or apparent.” Or as our Constitutions state equally powerfully, “As disciples of Jesus we stand side by side with all people. Like them we are hardened by the same struggles, beset by the same weaknesses; but like them we are made new by the same Lord’s love and like them we hope for a world where justice and love prevail”.
Dennis and Matt, be these men who so love God, who so much are a part of the brotherhood of Holy Cross that you bring that love to all whom you will serve, and most especially to those in our world who struggle to find love or hope. Thank you for your commitment and thank you for saying Yes today before all of us. Even with your humility, be totally and extremely confident for you have been well prepared as religious of Holy Cross and you are surrounded by love in this Basilica. Possessing that competency and being aware of that love, now in the words of Our Holy Father Francis, “Go forth from this point in your lives and Wake up the World!” God bless you and guide you today, this most sacred day, and all the days of your lives.