Posted September 19, 2011:
Only God Can Say Forever

by a staff worker.

Shortly after making his final promises on June 8, 1998, one of the laymen of Madonna House wrote this reflection.

I did it! On June 8, 1998, I made final promises. I, along with seven others, pledged my life to God in the Madonna House apostolate under promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

For the glory of God, and because I desire with my whole heart to respond to the call of Jesus Christ to preach the Gospel with my life, I, (name), hereby promise with the help of Our Lady, to live in poverty, chastity and obedience, forever, according to the Madonna House spirit and mandate.

Forever. For better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, until not even death do us part! As the African American spiritual says, "I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back."

All in all, this June 8th, the Feast of Our Lady of Combermere, (in MH, at least) was resplendent with that heavenly radiance and joy that we’ve come to expect on Our Lady’s days.

What inner reality could possibly correspond to this outward manifestation of glory? What splendor of love and grace could provoke such an outpouring of heaven’s gifts on this hidden little corner of Canada?

What’s happening in the hearts of those who pledge themselves to God for one year, two years, forever? In short, what’s it all about?

Well, I have insight into only one heart to even begin to reflect on those questions, and even that’s pretty murky at the best of times.

What’s it all about? To be quite frank, I don’t know! The realities of total consecration, of perfect and perpetual dedication—equally found in marriage, the priesthood, religious life, as well as our MH vocation as consecrated laity—lie utterly beyond the ken of human reason and mastery.

Only God can say forever.

Human beings—changeable, inconstant, sinful, weak—do not possess in themselves the ability to do this.

To give God a blank cheque on the account of one’s life, to throw oneself into the abyss, to burn one’s bridges, to leap out of the boat like Peter—and, unlike him, to not get back in!

—all this seems imprudent and foolish, to say the least.

My awareness of this folly, as the day approached, centered primarily on the ways I have not lived my promises "according to the spirit and mandate of Madonna House" in the last seven years.

Our spirit is one of loving without counting the cost, of total and utter dedication to God expressed in fidelity to the duty of each moment, in unstinting service and labor according to the needs of the apostolate.

Of poverty—a total stripping of all that is not of God in us, a total surrender of everything we have to the Lord, of which the physical "doing without" things is only a symbolic first step.

Of chastity—the total orientation of our selves, our affections towards Christ as lover and bridegroom, so that every relationship and affection is subordinate to and aligned on his Lordship in us.

Of obedience—total conformity to the Son who did the Father’s will in all things, fleshed out in our daily life by a total and childlike surrender to the will of God expressed to us by our directors.

Well, without getting into the gory details, I can assure you that I’ve fallen far short of all of the above since my first promises.

The questions in my heart and mind leading up to the day had been: "How do I have the audacity to stand up there and say ‘forever,’ knowing what I know about myself (which is, doubtless, only a fraction of the truth)? Am I a hypocrite, an idiot, or both?"

The answer I received to that question is: only God can say forever. The reality of our life is that, as we promise to God, as we make these extravagant commitments and claims, God, meanwhile, is promising us a few things.

He promises to be with us. He promises to sustain us. To give us his grace.

He promises his mercy: to pick us up and "clean us up"—forgiving us when we fall for the thousandth time.

He promises us the help of his angels and saints, especially the constant help and maternal care of Our Lady, our mother and guide.

He promises us the Cross. Yes, suffering and struggle and sacrifice, but also the unutterable joy of becoming a lover, of knowing one is united to Christ in it all, and experiencing, even as one is joined with him in his Passion, his victorious Resurrection.

He promises us fullness.

Fullness of life. Fullness of joy, of peace, of love. Finally, he promises us himself. If anyone…keeps my word, my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home in him (John 14:23).

It is these promises, and only these promises, of God to us that make any kind of dedicated, consecrated life possible.

It is this divine assurance of help, protection, and grace that makes perseverance in any vocation even remotely viable.

Standing up there on June 8th, saying those audacious words, "signing my life away"—it all might seem to an outsider very noble and grand.

It’s not. Only God can say forever. God has. He has pledged his troth to us—to humanity—forever, a pact sealed in the Blood of Christ.

All of our "yeses," the big and the little, those spoken in marriage or priesthood or under religious vows, are but a soft, muted echo of the immense, divine, glorious yes of God to each of us.

He has promised himself to us. We are his, because he, in a certain sense, is ours. For better or for worse. For richer or for poorer. In sickness and in health. Forever.

Excerpted from Restoration, July-August 1998



If you enjoy our articles, we ask you to please consider subscribing to the print edition of Restoration; it's only $10 a year, and will help us stay in print. Thanks, and God bless you!


Restoration Contents

Next article:
Promises 2011

Previous article:
The Scent of Lemon



RSS 2.0RSS feed

Madonna House - A Training Centre for the Lay Apostolate