By Dan Valenti
Brother Jim McCormack, MIC, and Br. Ron McBride, MIC, made their perpetual profession of vows on a steamy Sunday, Aug. 16, before a packed house at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, Eden Hill, Stockbridge, Mass.
The vows, known also as “final vows” and “evangelical counsels,” delivered in perpetuity to the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception two men who have made of their life, business, pleasure, profession, calling, and dedication a religious vocation. Brothers Jim and Ron pledged on their honor to perpetually live “in conformity to the life of Christ, who was poor, chaste, and obedient.”
‘For Christ and the Church’
Those words were taken from the “welcome” page of the beautiful booklet prepared by the Marians for the perpetual profession. The page brought the Marian motto “Pro Christo et Ecclesia” into sharp focus not as dusty Latin words on a crest but as a code of life: “As members of the Congregation … [Br. Jim and Br. Ron] strive to do all for Christ and the Church.”
It is both an incredibly courageous step taken for the good of the Church and the world as well as an inspirational action of surrender and assent. They have vowed “to do all for Christ and the Church” for eternity. Let that sink in. Meditate on those words: “all” and “in perpetuity.”
These two Marian brothers have decided of their own free will to raise the spiritual bar in their lives so high that it touches heaven. They will, as the program welcome states, unite in “mutual charity” under “the guidance and example of Mary Immaculate” to “seek the greater glory of God, the salvation of souls, and the good of the Church. Their particular mission is to spread devotion to Our Lady under the title of the Immaculate Conception, to pray for the poor souls in purgatory, to assist pastors, and to spread the message of The Divine Mercy.”
Blessing of the Crosses
Prior to the start of the 10:30 a.m. Holy Mass, in a private ceremony conducted in the library of the Marian monastery with all attending Marians present, Fr. Bob Vennetti, MIC, blessed the two crosses that were later presented to Br. Jim and Br. Ron after they professed their vows. They received those crosses as “the source of all graces,” according to the blessing.
After the conclusion of the Mass, as the two brothers greeted a throng of family, friends, loved ones, and well-wishers, Br. Ron received a compliment on his pectoral cross. After thanking the woman for her gracious remark, he held the cross and said, “I’d like to wear it forever.”
That comment could stand as vernacular for the perpetual vow he had just made.
Asked for their thoughts immediately following Mass, the newly professed were at a loss for words — a sure sign that God was doing the talking.
“Joy,” Br. Jim said. “It is all joy. God has been good to me.”
“This is the happiest day of my life,” Br. Ron said.
Their beaming smiles told the rest of the story.
The capstone came from Fr. John Larsen, MIC, he of the wit as dry as an evaporated martini sitting in the Sahara sun.
“Here’s the headline [to your story],” he told this writer. “McMarians.” As I took it down, Fr. John expressed mock surprise, which said that his brother Marians would find the title funny and apt. Taken as a pun from the ubiquitous fast-food empire, Fr. John’s sobriquet “McMarians” perfectly fits these two men (one a McCormack, the other a McBride), who had just given their lives to the Church for the good of the whole world.
Signing on the Dotted Line
The ceremony of vows was emotional, dramatic, hushed, reverent, exuberant, dutiful, and devout.
Father Bob Vennetti, MIC, and Fr. Mark Baron, MIC, served as witnesses for Br. Jim during his vows. Brother Ken Dos Santos and Br. Ken Galisa took the same turn for Br. Ron. Each of the men, along with the Very Rev. Dan Cambra, MIC, Marians’ provincial superior, affixed their signatures to the official Church and congregational documents.
There is a certain, sufficient gravity in seeing that many men publicly sign their names to officious documents. Those documents sealed the terms of perpetuity with such solemn honor as to place “the souls of the just … in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them.” Those were the words that began the first reading, Wisdom 3:1-9, read by Br. Ken Dos Santos.
In the second reading, Romans 8:26-30, Br. Jason Lewis, MIC, spoke these uplifting words: “Brothers and sisters: The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.”
A Life of Freedom
Those “groanings” will forever mark the lives of these two men who, as Marians, strive with every particle of their being to live as “holy ones” according to God’s will so that others might gain.
“One of the great charisms of the Marian Congregation,” said Fr. Dan in his homily, “is to pray for those who have no one.” Father Dan noted that to live as a Marian is in fact to live for the good of others, within whom Christ dwells. Another Marian mission, he said, is to spread the message of Divine Mercy, “a particular aspect of God’s love, very much needed in the third millennium.”
The provincial superior shared his understanding of what the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience mean. In essence, he said they add up to “a strong sense of freedom.”
Love that Humans Can’t Grasp
Freedom, Fr. Dan stressed, should characterize the life of a member of the Marian Congregation. In a bit of stunning counter-intuitiveness, Fr. Dan called the vow of obedience the “most free” of the three religious vows. The reason, he said, is that obedience for a Marian means to obey God almighty, who wants nothing for us but our good and who loves us in a way incalculable to and not graspable by human beings.
Obedience, he said, allows us to experience that love, even though we can’t define it, for in submitting to God’s will, we find the greatest of lives for ourselves. When a Marian “walks into a room, there should be [an immediate] sense of his prayerfulness — not a dark solemnity, but one brimming with the joy of God.”
As a final wish for Br. Jim and Br. Ron, Fr. Dan hoped they would continually strive to be as humble as St. Francis, as obedient as St. Ignatius of Loyola, and “to always be true to God in your heart.”
Face Down Before the Altar of God
When the moment of profession came, two red, velvet pillows were placed on a small rug at the foot of the altar. The two brothers prostrated themselves, arms outstretched, before God. Father Dan intoned in a rich voice that filled every nook of the warm, humid Shrine:
Dear brothers and sisters: Let us pray to God the almighty Father, through the intercession of the saints and those from our Marian religious community raised to the honors of the altar as blessed, that He may graciously bestow his blessing upon these, our brothers, whom He has called to follow Christ in evangelical perfection. May God with His grace strengthen them in their … purpose.
The entire assembly then knelt to face the Blessed Sacrament. Led by Br. Ken Galisa, MIC, and the National Shrine Schola, everyone sang “The Litany of Saints.”
After the vows were professed, Fr. Dan made it official, forever, when he said, “And I, in the name of the Church and of our fraternal community, receive your vows, and if you keep them, on the part of Almighty God, I promise you eternal life.”
As these momentous words of import and grace filled the Church, a quick glance at the two professed revealed both aspects of the Spirit’s infusion. Brother Jim had his eyes closed, gazing inward, past the “reverse side of the tapestry.” Brother Ron had his eyes raised and fixed upon Fr. Dan’s face, his expression showing at once awe, innocence, and radiance.
They had both entered that state of self-surrender from whence all good comes.
Thanks be to God for the courage of these two beautiful men of God.