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On 7th December, Br John Paul Oluoch made his perpetual profession at St Michael Parish in Langata, Nairobi, in a beautiful and well attended ceremony.
In attendance were the Brothers of the District, the parents and relatives of Br John Paul, the parishioners of St Michael Parish who included our Edmund Rice Karibu Youth, and a number of religious men and women.
From Tanzania there were representatives of our friends and co-workers who came to celebrate the occasion and showed their support and encouragement to John Paul.
Br Michael De Klerk, the Africa Province Leader received the vows in the name of the Congregation.
After the liturgy of the profession at St Michael’s Parish, all those who attended the ceremony were invited to Mary Rice Centre where the reception took place. There was much joy and jubilation as family, brothers and friends celebrated the occasion and congratulated John Paul.
A number of our youth showcased their talents through dance and singing. When all was done at the Mary Rice Centre, a celebration moved to the Otiende community where the open gates of the Brothers house brought in many guests than was earlier anticipated.
Even though we run out of ugali due to its high demand, there was still plenty of meat and drinks to share and all had a great day.
HOMILY FOR THE PERPETUAL PROFESSION OF BR JOHN PAUL OLUOCH by Br. George Massay
JEREMIAH 1:4-10; PHILIPPIANS 3:7-14; LUKE 5: 1-11
The readings we have just heard have a common theme: A call, a vocation. The reading from the Prophet Jeremiah speaks of God’s choice of Jeremiah, even before he was born. The text speaks of God’s intimate knowledge of Jeremiah. Did you hear the beautiful dialogue that happens between Jeremiah and God –we hear of God’s plan for Jeremiah and Jeremiah’s self-doubt and even fear to respond to that call. But then, after that beautiful dialogue, God gifts Jeremiah with the words he is to speak and sends him off as a prophet. It seems to me that what happened to Jeremiah can be summed in these words: Called, Gifted, and Sent.
I am sure Christian Brothers who are listening can recognize those words. They are well spelt out in our Constitutions. (Constitutions 1,3 & 5) We are all called, gifted, and sent. First and foremost through our baptism and then through our particular, unique, individual vocation. Our deepest and most fundamental call is accomplishing God’s purpose of creating us. This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: God who created man out of love also calls him to love – the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1604)
In other words, God creates us for no other reason than that God loves us and seeks our good. At the same time, because we are created in God’s image, we are programmed, wired, and designed for the purpose of loving as God loves. This means that our task in this life is to seek the face of the beloved so that we can love and be loved.
This vocation of love takes us beyond ourselves. In each one of us there is a longing to be united by something that or someone who is more than us. In some spiritual or theological terms that “more” word is often referred to as the Transcendent. The transcendent vocation of every person.
Recently canonized Saint Oscar Romero once wrote that “no one of us is able to define our nature or our relation with our Creator, not even the atheist who claims not to believe in God. Even if people protest against God, they are always transcendently related to God. Even unbelievers must always in the end repeat the words of Saint Augustine, that great humanist who also walked along paths of unbelief but could not be happy until he exclaimed, ‘You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.’ Only God can be the center of gravity in whom we find rest, as when a stone has fallen into the abyss, as when Christ has ascended toward God.”
The readings we have just heard speak to us, because of the love that is stirring in us to re-connect with something beyond ourselves. I dare say, too, that Brother John Paul is making his final vows today because there is something that is stirring within him that leads him to make this lifetime commitment of himself; a choice that might not make a great deal of sense to many. It is absurd in today’s world where all we are told is that you are better when you have this and are able to attain that or when you are identified with a well-known so-and-so of this world. That one might choose - and Brother John Paul does today - to commit one’s whole life to the gospel values of poverty, chastity, and obedience only make sense if our eyes gaze beyond what we are witnessing here in this world to a love beyond us, to a love that
cannot be satisfied until it is satisfied in God.
John Paul, making these vows today is your response to this divine invitation to love. You are choosing to commit your life to a wholehearted, no-holds-barred, loving relationship with God. By making vows you are saying to us that God is sufficient for you. During Kenya election periods we always hear, this one tosha, or that one tosha, but you are saying: Mungu tosha. Yesu tosha.
Servant of God Father Pedro Arrupe, a former Jesuit Superior General, once reflected:
"Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
So - if you are in love with God, whom do you know? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What breaks your heart? What amazes you? The Catholic English writer G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) wrote a letter to his future wife, Frances Blogg, in which he set forth his proposal of marriage. In the course of this letter he expressed many things leading up to the actual proposal. At the very end of the letter he proposed - which I summarize as follows:
All my prior loves have been a preparation for loving you. Now my former life comes to an end because it has led me to you. Take my life for my search for love has brought me to you. Are these thoughts or resolutions, in John Paul’s mind when he chose the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians? Saint Paul who, up until his encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus, had an illustrious past as a Hebrew, a Pharisee, a zealous follower of the law.
After his encounter with Jesus everything changes. He gets a new focus, a new love, a desire for a new knowledge which he says far outweighs anything he ever was and ever wanted to be. By professing his final vows today, Brother John Paul is responding to God’s invitation by entering into a covenant of love for the rest of his life, just as Chesterton proclaims to his bride “take my life for my search for love has brought me to you.”
John Paul, by making these vows, you are not, as it were, ontologically changed. You are not receiving a new rank. You are choosing, rather, to be a brother for the rest of your life. You are committing yourself to a lifestyle, to a style of relating that Christ intended for his followers. Jesus said “As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’. You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.” (Mathew 23:8) Brotherhood — and sisterhood - is a stance in life that gives life to others especially those who are poor and neglected. Simply put, it is about the quality of relationship.
If you have not been a brother before you made your first vows, or through your vowed life, you won't be one tomorrow. Through perpetual profession you are consecrated to God to live a life worthy of your vocation. You are set aside for God's purpose. Recently a bishop preaching during the perpetual profession of a group of sisters reminded them that they are made holy for God. They are like altars upon which the sacrifice is offered. Through consecration, John Paul, you are allowing yourself to become Eucharist, broken and shared for others. This might sound like a lofty idea, not something close to the ground, but if you look at our Congregation’s logo, that is actually what it symbolizes. The wheat symbolizes the Eucharistic life we are called to live.
In today’s gospel, Jesus encounters Simon, who was carrying on his regular activity of fishing. After that encounter Simon’s focus in life is changed. Despite a successful catch of fish, Simon is not going to the market to sell them, but instead “left everything and followed him.” (Verse 11)
John Paul has a particular affinity with water. I remember visiting his family home, I think in the year 2006. The family home is very close to Lake Victoria. His love and familiarity with life around the lake moved him to choose this gospel reading from Luke.
It is worth noting here that the gospel reading proclaimed today was used when Brother John Paul was received as a postulant in the year 2007. It is 11 years from that day. Quite a reasonable amount of time for John Paul to know what it is that he is committing himself to. I was a formation team member back in 2007 and I recall that before the arrival of the postulants, we placed on their room doors images of a boat inviting them to sail into the deep, to take a risk.
Eleven years ago Brother John Paul took that risk, and he continues to risk everything for the sake of the Gospel and in expressing today his lifelong commitment as a Christian Brother. I think John Paul has reached a mature decision to say “YES” for the rest of his life. This “YES,” even though final, will require daily commitments, and regular renewal, remembering that first attraction and invitation from the God who has called you from your youth.