Occasionally you may hear of someone “counting up years” in a cemetery. There is a story of one priest visiting a convent graveyard in which the sisters date of profession of vows was included on the tombstones so he added them all together as he walked the graves praying for their souls, thanking God for their steady perseverance and he was struck by how many centuries of lived vows their markers indicated.
While our tombstones do not provide vow dates, depriving one of this exercise in holy math in our Blessed Sacrament Cemetery, we did recently tend to another kind of holy math when we more formally and individually renewed our vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. While we do renew our vows in community frequently, it is only at a Chapter of Elections that we renew them ‘live’ so to speak. This tremendous blessing happens every six years and we enjoyed doing this for the first time in Tennessee in a particularly special way.
When we have a Chapter of Elections, as we did October 2nd, our new Mother Prioress, now known as Mother Sarah Michael, renewed her vows in the presence of Bishop Stika. But afterwards, following the election and installation of her Council, the entire community gathered before our Lord in Chapel once again and this time grace upon grace poured out as, one by one, each nun knelt to individually renew her vows in the hands of the new Mother. Yes, we recite the same words of the formula, renewing the same three vows, changing only our names, but reaching out anew – mind, soul, body – towards the Beloved with a renewed, “Fiat!” into the unknown, in a movement of the heart that is the same and yet utterly unique to each Handmaid. And our Spouse receives each bride’s pledge once again, this custom-fitted betrothal he crafted for each before time began. As the sisters listen to one another renewing her vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, each revisits in her mind’s eye her First Vows, her Final Vows, the times of trial and crucifixion, the times of consolation and delight and all in between. Whether it has been a year, or ten, or fifty or more…grace upon grace flows. As one Handmaid observed, “Beautiful! You could just feel it! Grace upon grace upon grace!” Flowers blossom. So do vocations. The “Fiat!” never ends.
If anyone is wondering, if we did the holy math among ourselves it would be 404 years.