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Brother Jim McCormack, MIC, above, along with Br. Ron McBride, MIC, will make perpetual vows on Aug. 16.

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By Dan Valenti (Aug 12, 2009)
A vow is a promise taken to the next level of consequence.

A vow is to a promise what a contract is to a handshake. While both are agreements, a vow as opposed to a promise suggests more formality, less casualness, and is more deliberately entered into and much harder to break.

Promises are made informally. Vows are made with solemnity.

Promises are typically private. Vows are usually public.

When a member of a religious congregation professes perpetual vows, that person makes a free-will declaration of intent to respond to a call from God through inspiration of the Holy Spirit by becoming a lifelong follower and imitator of Christ. The intention maps out a destination for a spiritual journey taken with other members of the congregation, although the route itself must be discovered on the fly and one must at times walk alone, except as the illumined and illuminating God travels with the person in the light of faith.

A professed religious quickly learns that God — not mice and not men — lays the best plans.

On Aug. 16, Br. Jim McCormack, MIC, and Br. Ron McBride, MIC, will make their perpetual vows and be bound by Church law into a life of Christ as a member of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. They will make their attestation during a ceremony that begins at 10:30 a.m., Sunday, Aug. 16, at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, Stockbridge, Mass.

'Pierced by pure love'
It's hard to describe what happens to a person professing religious vows. At that moment, he or she waits for God in receptive surrender, the active voice ceasing and the passive voice beginning the instant they faithfully respond to the grace of their calling.

"When I made my first profession of vows in August 2007," says Br. Angelo Casimiro, MIC, "I received such a superabundance of unmerited consolations from our Lord and Our Lady. Then when I renewed them last year, I felt Our Lady's presence like I had never experienced it before. It was like my heart had been pierced by pure love.

"I knew in my heart that God wanted me to be a Marian. I have fallen in love with this community. They are my family now. I am looking forward to renewing my vows with my brothers on Aug. 15, along with seeing the new guys enter our community, the novices making their first vows, and Br. Jim and Br. Ron making their perpetual vows the following day."

The Point of No Return
Brother Jim hopes to be ordained a Marian priest next year. He will be following roughly a year apart the journey of Fr. Andy Davy, MIC, who made his solemn vows as a Marian in August 2008 and became ordained in May.

A perpetual vow is a lifetime commitment, a covenant that echoes the agreement of rescue God made with humankind in a supreme act of love and mercy. Spiritually, a perpetual vow is the point of no return in the good sense of that phrase — an old, worldly way of life fully ceases and a new, mystical way fully begins. As such, the moment abounds with drama, consequence, and magnitude. It is awesome to witness.

In the exact moment Brothers Jim and Ron solemnly pledge their lives as Marians, they will be at the apex of their humanity. They will be at the height of an incorporeal arc that intersects with the downward reach of God Himself. In that moment, they will take on the persona of the Christ.

As long as they remain faithful to their promise, Brothers Jim and Ron will live at that apex and in that intersection, being at once supplicants for the mercy of God as well as administrators of it. As Marians, they will continue to live by the great mission of the congregation: devotion to Mary as the Immaculate Conception, helping the souls in purgatory, performing spiritual and corporeal works of mercy, assisting parishes the world over, and spreading Divine Mercy.

A 'Natural Step' Along a Holy Road
Brother Jim — a gentle, soft-spoken man with the gift of listening — spoke last year prior to renewing his vows of professing his first vows on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary: "It was a powerful experience, but in some ways it was also a natural step along this road upon which Our Lady has been guiding me. It is a joy for me to be able to give back to her who has given so much to me. I look forward with joy to the next steps along this journey, confident that she is always there, leading me to her Son."

Those next steps are about to be taken.

Brother Jim — speaking in the crisp, analytical words that give a clue to his former profession of engineer — says he has discerned in the seminary that God has called him to the priesthood. By the light cast by his faith and meditations, his education and studies, Br. Jim has been given the grace to see the eloquence of a life given to God in His service as a priest.

Brother Ron, too, has discerned by that same light and in reception of that same grace the focus of his call from God. He will live his life as a Marian brother.

Living in Imitation of Christ
The path sometimes does not lead to the priesthood for a professed man. The Marians are a congregation of both priests and brothers. Congregational brotherhood is a vocation in no way "inferior" to the priesthood. Marian brothers, the same as priests, minister on behalf of the Triune God and in furtherance of the congregation's charisms. They both take upon themselves the attendant responsibilities of that calling.

In short, Marian brothers and priests must live in imitation of Christ. They both become God's "interpreters" for the laity. By their vows, they will do their best to live lives of virtuous obligation.

Oh, that it were so easily done as said.

Our limited and compromised human nature often fails us. Our faults daily struggle with virtue, and we are constantly reminded how far we fall short of perfection. Lay people often beat themselves up for their human shortcomings. A professed religious, whose "profession" is their vocation, can experience human failing in an even more pronounced and painful way.

It is not a life for the spiritually feint of heart or those who are lukewarm about their direction. That is why the Catholic Church establishes such comprehensive formation programs for men and women who feel they might be called to the religious life.

There are two special forms of pain regarding a calling. The first is the pain of having a genuine call and saying no. The second is the pain of not having a genuine call but saying yes because one has failed to discern properly. There is one form of special spiritual grace regarding a calling: to have an authentic call and to answer that call.

This is the only way one can ever hope to live a life in which the soul is perfected. That is to involve God, who alone sends us vocational and professional calls that are genuine. The world, our fears, and our insecurities may lead us into a delusion of religious vocation, but if a calling comes from God, it can only be authentic.

Leave Everything to God
The time-proven solution to this dilemma of unperfected human nature — as saints, holy men and women, sages, and mystics have proven not just in their words but especially their lives — resides in living a life of humility and selflessness. Living a humble and contrite life creates space and time in a person. A humble person who surrenders to God lets go of grasping at pleasure and fleeing from pain.

To some extent, all religious who answer yes to a genuine calling share this spiritual detachment, since it enables them to be true to their vocations. This detachment, this humility, in turn creates a "holy gap" in a life that God rushes in to fill. We cannot be perfect, but God, who is perfection, lives perfection for us by being in us.

Jean-Pierre de Caussade, the great Jesuit priest, writer, and philosopher of the 18th century, called this gap "the sacrament of the present moment." In his book of that title (alternately known as Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence), we find these words:

O my God! When will it please you to grant me the favor of always living in union of my will with your heavenly will? Where saying nothing says it all and all is done by leaving all to you. Where we achieve much by surrendering ever more to you. ... Blessed state, which even in the absence of conscious faith, offers the soul an inward and entirely spiritual disposition.

On Aug. 16, Marian brothers Jim McCormack and Ron McBride will step in that "holy gap" of which Fr. de Caussade speaks. They will "get 'er done" by leaving all to His holy will. In the exact instant of their profession, they will be given a godly strength that will last their entire earthly lives — and beyond — for their own good and the good of all humankind.

That is the ultimate significance of perpetual vows. Men and women, in professing for themselves, profess for us as well.

Thank you, Br. Jim and Br. Ron.

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of Dan Valenti's Mercy Journal.

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Be a part of the discussion. Add a comment now!

Brother Leonard - Aug 14, 2009

Congratulations Brothers Jim and Ron.

One of your big days has arrived and I want to extend to you my personal greetings and prayers for perseverance, holiness and continued contributions to the Marian Community!

With fraternal regards while I join you in "Spirit" on this joyful occasion!

Bill Donovan - Aug 13, 2009

Dan, As a Cursillista I learned to "Let Go and Let God". This is the ultimate act of faith to let God as these young men are. My prayer are with them that they are trully called and will trully live the life of their vows.

ARNOLD GILE - Aug 13, 2009

knowing there are young men and women responding yes to religious callings gives buoyancy to the entire Church. Our prayers and well wishes go to all the Marians, to brothes Jim and Ron in particular, and love to the entire world. God bless.

Fr. Andy Davy, MIC - Aug 12, 2009

It is truly a joy to celebrate the perpetual vows of Brs. Jim and Ron!!!! Know that all of the Marians in the Philippines are rejoicing to have you in our Congregation. Know that you will be in our prayers!

Fr. Joe Roesch, MIC - Aug 12, 2009

Looking forward to seeing you both this weekend. My prayers are with you!

Joesph Anthony - Aug 12, 2009

Our prayers and blessings will be with all the MArians, and especially Brothers Jim and Ron , on the special days of vows.
It is a beautiful thing.