12 Men Profess First Vows


It’s In the Eyes, Jackie
By Fr. Paul Clarke, O.P.
This article originally appeared in Dominicana and is reprinted with permission.

In the spirit of both the Year of Consecrated Life and of earworm worship ditties (viz. Laudate #821, “Kingdom of God”, source of the line, “the Kingdom of God / is challenge and choice”), I offer the fruits of some recent contemplation: “the vows that we make / are jackpot and death.”

I think of a scene in the 1998 film Waking Ned Devine (spoiler alert), after Jackie O’Shea and Michael O’Sullivan have discovered their friend Ned Devine dead on his sofa, clutching the winning lottery ticket. Awed and unnerved by the curious expression on the face of the deceased, Jackie tries unsuccessfully to “fix” the smile frozen on poor Ned’s lips. As Jackie steps back, Michael is staring fixedly at Ned’s upturned face, and whispers, “It’s in his eyes, Jackie. It’s in his eyes.”

“It” was also in the eyes of twelve men who knelt in St. Gertrude’s Church in Cincinnati on Saturday morning and made vows in the Order of Preachers, to be poor, chaste, and obedient.

These men have vowed their lives over to God, to the Church, and to the Dominican life. While the words “until death” come only at solemn vows, several years after simple profession, even simple vows involve entrusting the entirety, every last shred of yourself, to the mercy of God. To many today this seems misguided, foolhardy, wasteful, perhaps “unnatural,” as Ned’s expression seemed to Jackie and Michael as they bent over him. But they didn’t see the vision that Ned did.

In a more theological key, religious consecration is about a vision of the transfigured Christ, in which we also suddenly find our own lives caught up in that brilliant light. For those he invites to religious consecration, the Lord shows a new life, one transfigured by his own. For some this comes in an instant, as a blinding realization. For others, it is a dawn breaking in slowly. For both, the experience is simultaneously jackpot and death-knell.

It’s like the Old Testament refrain that no man can see God and live. In light of the Transfiguration, we see that no one can have this vision of God and go unchanged. God’s revelation is an invitation to life, but this life is only arrived at by a death. The old way of doing things, of seeing things, must pass away. The old man must die. Which, of course, is a fearful thing, unnerving like the joy in Ned Devine’s eyes. I think of when the apostles on Mount Tabor, overcome by awe and fear, hide their faces from the sight of Christ’s glory. As Matthew relates it,

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (Mt 17-7-8)

They saw no one but Jesus only. That single line evokes the longing that filled the hearts of twelve men, which brought them to their knees on the altar steps of St. Gertrude’s. They have been changed by that glimpse of the glory of the only Son of God. What else to do? They consecrate their lives. They train their eyes to see Jesus, and him only.


To find, in wandering, a peace,
Not first of having, but of seeing.
Sudden, like a gift.

To find that the world
Is all over hinges,
Needing only that we
Lean in to crack the door

Loose the light, and find
That the creases of our world
Flicker with a restless,
Burning splendor,

All but invisible,
And yet most beautiful.

Not of having.
That is the first thing
We notice. But of course
We are late to the story.

In wandering, to find
A peace, not first
Of having, but of seeing:

In the glance that is met
Unexpectedly; a promise,
A vow, really,

That in its giving
Is yet more having
Than my halfway having
Could have hoped to hold.

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